Ritual Object

after Willie Cole
Through the artist’s eyes,
we catch this breath of fire,
lifting water up to flight.
This dead weight sinks our histories
back into deep sleep, hidden away
to dream of repair.
Waking, we clutch at the real
weight of a movable flood, catching
streams that pour through metal
still cold to the touch. Time
takes little care over us. Current
flowing, its song sighs across weft,
warp, wrinkle, fold. It collars us
in its minutae.
Iron, pierced for steam’s escape!
Ease across what was once shift,
now skirt, scarf, shirt sleeve, sheet.
Warm what will soon cool.
Stiffen what will turn soft.
Smoothe our way, and drape us
in the dignity
of this new day.

Copyright © 2018 by Tsitsi Ella Jaji. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Ironing is a morning ritual that is especially important to the black communities I belong to, where looking polished is a matter of pride and pleasure. This poem was inspired by the delicious memory of the crisp smell of starch and steam. And by the wonderful artwork of Willie Cole, who has used the iron as an art medium, sometimes burning prints into fabric with an iron's head that evoke the shape of a slaver's ship. The iron, like any ritual object, has the power to transform such elements as water, fire, metal, air into a multitude of meanings, each one as malleable as folded cloth.”
—Tsitsi Ella Jaji