‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olsen

A story for February
 
A love story of sorts, for Valentine’s Day. “I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” I often think about this story of a mother reflecting on her teenage daughter’s life in response to concerns from a teacher. How the ‘back and forth’ motion of the iron is echoed in the shape of the piece, with memories, arguments and regrets rising and falling. (“Running out to that huge school where…she was lost, she was a drop,” then “She is so lovely. Why did you want me to come in at all? Why were you concerned? She will find her way.”) How it opens and deepens with lines taking in this family and other families across Depression-era America. How it ends without resolution but instead, like ironing and other domestic tasks, concluded for now, until the next day when it will be done all over again. 

First published in Tell Me a Riddle, Dell, 1961/Virago 1980, and available to read online here

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