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Poem: The Irishman Washes the Floor


In-laws can be difficult to win over, and as poet Jenny Benjamin points out, sometimes the work is just as physical as it is emotional.

She sat on a stool,
Her black-booted feet perched
At the stool’s base,
And waited for her son-in-law,
The Irishman,
To work his way across the linoleum
On hands and knees with a dishrag.
His scoot and shuffle had a determined,
Quiet method, square by square
He worked his way to her waiting hand.
Without looking he handed the rag up to her,
And she dipped it in the bucket of lye and
Rung it out, leaving just enough damp
For him to begin his next section of floor.

This Irishman made the first mistake
Of being Irish, not Italian, and meeting
Her daughter during the war
In Denver, Colorado.
They worked in the infirmary
And Mac saw her while he made a plaster cast.
Charmed her until they married.
So after years of her scrutiny and his efforts to make
His mother-in-law like him,
Maybe love him.
He won her
By washing the floor.

She did not coo over Mac’s work, but sat
Like a satisfied bird atop a high wire
With no expectation for the day.
While looking down at his work,
She decided, at that moment, to send him
Five dollars every birthday.

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Jenny Benjamin is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over 30 of her poems have appeared in journals, including DIAGRAM, South Carolina Review, Fulcrum, Baltimore Review, Chelsea, and the Crab Orchard Review. Her first novel, This Most Amazing, was published in 2013 by Armida Books in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her poetry chapbook, More Than a Box of Crayons, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.