Finding What’s Essential in Just Laundry: Painting and Poetry in Dialogue by Alexis Rehrmann — Intima

I hate looking at paintings through a screen, jammed into one small window, behind a second one in which I am typing. The imperfect scrolling, the unbridgeable distance from here to there, the texture of brushstrokes smoothed to a perfectly placid 72 dpi. Like so many connections during COVID, it can feel insurmountable, ludicrous, as we struggle to reach each other over unstable Wi-Fi connections, to let our hearts shine out of the small space above our masks.

But here I am, looking at paintings on the internet when a title catches my eye: Just Laundry by Brina Bui appeared in Intima’s Spring 2020 issue. My poem, Essential, appeared in Fall 2020. In my writing, I was wrestling with women’s work — cooking, cleaning, childcare, caregiving and, of course, laundry.

Reader, I clicked in.

Bui’s laundry is monumental. A rumpled white coat and a turquoise patient gown fill the entire field of view with a craggy geography. There is a solidity here. The women’s work in my poem commands a similar totality of focus: It fills the field of vision with material labor.

Women’s work is not only done by women, of course, but the work itself has been gendered and devalued in our culture. With a pandemic upon us, what a shock to discover that this de-valued women’s work-cleaning, laundry, cooking, and childcare-becomes so essential to our collective and individual health.

I was struck in Bui’s painting by the rumpled descent of the clothing-a rough waterfall of fabric that sweeps the eye down. My experience of quarantine was an abrupt descent into women’s work. My poem captures that abruptness between the first and second stanza. The first reaching up, up, up, and the second opening with a small spot on the floor. I’ve left the movement of descent off of my page but Bui’s work lends my piece a visual.

I’m drawn to the bright turquoise color in the painting, it is almost the only color used in Bui’s palette. My piece echoes this single bright pop of color in half a purple plastic Easter egg. Both brilliant objects, the patient gown and the Easter egg, contained something, or someone, before-a person, some sweet holiday moment.

In both the painting and the poem, these particulars are gone but the objects remain and hold an impression of that past life. There’s honor in caring for these objects, in both our daily work and our creative lives.

Originally published at https://www.theintima.org on February 5, 2021.