On Reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Homework”

after an article in the New York Times 

It was in the Financial Section. On page 3, below
the fold. A huge multi-national conglomerate is
praised for an “innovative marketing program”

that washes dirty clothes and linens for free  
after a disaster. This time it’s the tornado
that tore through Joplin, but Loads of Hope

began after Katrina. When I think how hard
and costly it was to wash everything we
didn’t throw away after 9/11, my eyes

well up. To begin with, no water or electricity.
It would be months before new machines
arrived to replace those contaminated by dust.

Everything in closets, dressers, chests had to be
hauled to a distant laundry. The sheer number
of quarters it took, the fear that, no matter

how many wash, rinse and spin cycles, 
our clothes would never be clean enough
to put against skin. Allergic to perfumes

as I became after 9/11, I want to breathe
in the Tide of cleanliness; to be one of the lucky,
leaving our filthy belongings with strangers

to remove what they can of disaster and return
them to us, clean, neatly folded, wrapped 
in paper, bagged, and tied with a ribbon.


Copyright © 2022 by Andrea Carter Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 12, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I was still thinking and writing about 9/11 when I read an article in the Times which described the cleanup after a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, killing nearly 160 and injuring 1,150. The article reminded me of Ginsberg’s 1980 rant-poem railing against the many places in the world with man-made environmental disasters. Anger does not come naturally to me, having been taught as a child to suppress it, but including ‘Homework’ in my poem title allowed me to refer obliquely to the anger I felt after 9/11, which I had never expressed.”
Andrea Carter Brown