"Woman's Work" by Julia Alvarez

Thanks to Fanny C. for recommending a book of poetry: Rebel Angels, 25 Poets of the New Formalism. I've been making slow progress, but have stopped and lurched backward to re-read this poem several times. It's not sophisticated, but it's stuck.

Julia AlvarezWoman's Work
by Julia Alvarez

Who says a woman's work isn't high art?
She'd challenge as she scrubbed the bathroom tiles.
Keep house as if the address were your heart.

We'd clean the whole upstairs before we'd start
downstairs. I'd sigh, hearing my friends outside.
Doing her woman's work was a hard art

to practice when the summer sun would bar
the floor I swept till she was satisfied.
She kept me prisoner in her housebound heart.

She'd shine the tines of forks, the wheels of carts,
cut lacy lattices for all her pies.
Her woman's work was nothing less than art.

And I, her masterpiece since I was smart,
was primed, praised, polished, scolded and advised
to keep a house much better than my heart.

I did not want to be her counterpart!
I struck out. . .but became my mother's child:
a woman working at home on her art,
housekeeping paper as if it were her heart.

For my part, didn't grow up with a Mom who was so fastidious, or LIVED so much through housework. My parents (split home-ish-ness, but consolidating everyone for simplicity's sake) put an emphasis on us kids doing chores and housekeeping so we would not be totally useless when we left the nest. Seems obvious and common, but how many people/roommates have we known who moved away from home with little or no household skills?

The poem is a manifesto, but my place in life is not summed up in the last stanza, though in time it may be. While sputtering in my writing projects, I see my 8 y/o daughter taking an interest in writing story ideas or phrases in a journal she has, she's made several observations over the years about seeing me write, and both kids sometimes ask about the state of my writing projects.

I wonder if I'm role modeling for her. If she'll see my taking spare moments to write as an acceptable norm, a habit for her to build on. If my life is an intermediary step for any greater successes she may have. That's fine with me. I'd be proud to see it.