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Monday, November 2, 2009

On Reading the Iliad in the Laundry Room

Written 4-5-2009

Can words have a smell? A feel? A temperature? Because these words do to me. They smell like laundry detergent and fabric softener, with a faint hint of bleach, vinegar, and mildew. They feel warm, like the bathroom after a long shower. And though the meter of the Greek is lost in the translation, to me the words sing with the rhythmic thumping of dryers.

Or perhaps I have it backwards. Perhaps it is the smells and sounds of the laundry room that makes recollect the words. But whichever way it is, both bring the same image to mind.

It’s a freshman girl. She uncertain about how to deal with the tension of sharing a dorm room, and untrusting of leaving her laundry unattended. So she seeks refuge in the laundry room, searching for escape in the words of the book she has been assigned to read.

“Sing of rage”. The room is warm and comforting. Its atmosphere covers her like a blanket. “Of Peleus’ son, Achilles”.  The sickly sweet scent of detergent is familiar. It reminds her of her Grandma’s house. “And the will of Zeus be done” The thumping of the dryers seems loud at first, but soon becomes mesmerizing, drawing her deeper and deeper into the words she is reading. “You visionary of hell, never have I had fair play in your forecasts”.

Her laundry is finished, but she doesn’t leave. This room is safe. Even though other students pass through it to get their own laundry, it feels more private than her dorm-room. And so she stays.

And now, whenever that freshman, now a senior, walks into a laundry room, the words of that miraculous poem come back to her. The words that would help to shape the path she took on her journey through college. The words read in the laundry room. 

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