American Life in Poetry: Column 486


Poetry has room for everything and everybody, for every subject and object. Here’s a poem by Sharon Chmielarz, a Minnesota poet, on a subject I’ve never seen written about. And poetry, and American Life in Poetry in particular, now welcomes pillow cleaners!

The Pillow Cleaners Come to Town

and turn the senior citizen center
into an automated assembly line.

Goodbye, dross of long winter nights.
Farewell, old skin cells and reek:

what couldn’t come clean on a clothesline.
Bundles of pillows, caroming, bouncing,

sloshing along, even as more
mistresses of pillows hurry through the door,

hugging stained sacks of feathers
like thoughts kept well past prime.

Sure, they should’ve been thrown out
long ago but—we paid so dearly for them.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Sharon Chmielarz from her most recent book of poems, Love from the Yellowstone Trail, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Sharon Chmielarz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.