Courtesy of Bart de Paepe’s Sloow Tapes
This is a historical recording by Judith Malina, who died two weeks ago. I’ve transcribed the text the way it struck my ear, but its true power can’t be fully appreciated until you’ve heard her read the poem for yourself. — JH
every one of the cleaning women / dreamt of something else / when she was seventeen. / they smile. / they joke. / they sigh / in their smocks and their comfy shoes. / they try not to recall the plans / for a miracle or a marriage, / all the schemes that each of them made / with their young man in the marriage bed / of a house in the fields or a store in a city. / now they are widowed or worn, / the man drunk or dead or departed / or unable to make ends meet. / every one of the cleaning women / hoped that the prince would come and rescue her / from the pail and the wringer. / the fairytale promised that the girl / who sat by the Singer’s was to be clothed in splendor, / inherit the kingdom. / slowly that dream wore down.
when i was eighteen / and worked in the laundry / counting the dirty wash, / i dreamed that the prince would come / — and he came — / and that my talent and ardor / would rescue me from lifting five napkins, eight pieces underwear / rescue and lead to a privileged life. / and i was the fortunate one / leading a privileged life / rescued from smock and broom. / and now my friends ask me / why i’m so sad when i see the cleaning women / laughing as though they were nothing. / ‘oh you and your jewish guilt.’ / or ‘somebody has to do it.’ / but every one of the cleaning women / dreamed that it wouldn’t be she.