The Maynard
Spring 2016

Leena Niemela

A Little Soap Work

My mother insists cotton
hung to dry on nylon line, crisp-
edged, smell like alfalfa, like
soil from the potato bed, like
unannounced rain shower
and sunlight that came back.
A smell, thick and spicy, more
than expected, rubs off
a little on the skin, oily,
when those sheets are pulled
down and folded square into the basket.

At fourteen, grandmother
harvested, handwove, the flax
that is the eighty-year-old tablecloth
spread on my table. White
linen pressed to my face
cow pasture, Metsäkylän rains,
her northern strawberry garden
mix with my Okanagan sunshine
and grasshopper spray. My mother
warns, wash by hand, turnip
casserole, fish soup in spring, pink
vispipuuro shadows,
yesterday’s stains, linen witness,
a hint,
a kind of living clean.

I am beginning to understand
careful hands caressing stains,
warm water, a little soap work.
How sheets wrap your nights, soak
up your sweat and your sex, so tight
around your sleeping body. Hung
to dry in plain view, our night sweats,
our desire, our bodies, alive. I want
those sheets pinched by wooden pegs,
to last eighty years of nights.