Lunatic Laundress

 The Lunatic Laundress

            (Hanwell Asylum, 1834.)


We each have our tasks:

the delirious wash,

the aggressive wring it,

the imbeciles hang up the linen to dry

the melancholy iron it

the obsessives fold it

and put it away.


I’m a washer and wringer

for they say I am violent,

curse, swear

and  use bad language.

I’m kept busy from six in the morning

till late.  I’m too busy to argue

or  even to  think.


It’s better than sewing

sitting still as a statue

except for the needle

pricking the cloth

in and out

like what the master

did to me.


It’s better than thinking

about my baby.

I must be docile,

and pious

and grateful

to the parish

for taking her in.


I’ll slap and I’ll slap

till I’ve loosened the dirt

of my sin and am pure

as a nun,

my mind purged of madness

as blank as clean sheets

and neatly folded up.


First published in Milking the Haggis: New Writing Scotland, 2004.