Coleridge’s Laundry by Maxine Kumin


Breaking a drought dating back to 1999, Nebraska’s Platte River reached “flood stage” in late May of 2008. July in Lincoln was fairly hot, with temperatures up to 10 degrees above the average high, but August was mild and September was cooler than normal. Maxine Kumin, the United States Poet Laureate of 1981-82, was published in Prairie Schooner that summer. “Coleridge’s Laundry” was later nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

by Tory Clower

Coleridge’s Laundry
Maxine Kumin

I wanted to talk about Coleridge
who was anything but handsome
and was always leaving his wife

to walk amazing distances
for conversations with his pals:
Poole, Lamb, Wordsworth, et al.

I said, so what if the Pantisocratic
ideal was just another hippie
utopia where everyone labored by hand

in the morning and studied or wrote
in the afternoon? So what if the project
conceived in poverty went down

in unexpected endowments,
the Lannans and MacArthurs of their day?
I wanted to read about laudanum:

how many drops at bedtime and
did he add them to water or tea
or something stronger.

When I closed my book I fell
asleep as instantly as if I’d downed
50 drops in two fingers of scotch straight up.

In my dream this poem was given
a communion wafer
and a blood transfusion.

I woke with baked cotton on my tongue.
My pulse was vigorous, my heart
was with Sara, the mountain

of laundry, her always absent Coleridge.
Domesticity and migraines,
miles and miles on foot.