Merethe

By Marianne Koluda Hansen

Merethe wrings out the floor rag
and slings it through the air
with a very particular throw
that makes it spread out
flat on the floor
she has learned that throw
from her more experienced colleagues
she cleans in a department store
to pay for college
she certainly could have gotten help from home
but you really want to make it on your own
when you have gotten
to be twenty-seven

and besides it’s also healthy
to have tried a little of everything
especially when you’re going to be an architect
and be out making
living spaces for The People
she loves The People
and The Ruling Class can stick it
with its ideologies and soup spoons
and golf and tennis and the whole shooting match
it’s the Workers’ interests she’ll be out attending to
and it’s like you feel a lot more
solidarity with the Working Class
when you have seen them
up close
and felt their problems
with your own body

at the very start
she didn’t like going
into the canteen at all
when all the warehouse staff were in there
they spoke so crudely
and not because she was a prude
but did they have to come right out and advertise
their trashy
subculture?

Nils has teased her about it:
for a true socialist like her
it must really
be awesome
with a whole canteen full
of genuine workers
she realizes this
and eventually
as she has gotten used to their language
she also thinks
that they are really interesting
to study
and in a way actually very nice too

and she sure meets an awful lot of
repressed women
she’ll never forget
Mrs. Karlsen’s legs:
completely blue with repression
when she comes tottering
to fill her cleaning bucket
and there are many others
whose hands are marked
by lifelong toil:
red and rough
and still
they look as if
they could stroke so infinitely gentle
over the hot forehead of a fevered child

and Merethe
doesn’t look down on those women
even though they maybe
can seem a bit one-dimensional
in a way she can actually
admire them
for their indomitable courage
and ability to
be satisfied with little
when it comes down to it
they are no doubt much happier
than herself
don’t place such high
expectations on life
and then that solidarity
there’s a lot more cohesiveness
in the Worker Class
but of course they are also raised to
sort of think more collectively

and Merethe has a nice time with them
smokes Cecils with them
drinks coffee and eats pastries with them
shares their small and great sorrows
gets them to really open up
because you know they come from environments
where you don’t really
talk about feelings
and Merethe
thinks she learns a lot from that

no, she’s never been any kind of a snob
has no illusions about herself
just because a person has a diploma and so on
she can simply
feel herself completely touched
at the thought of
how much solidarity she has

but she cannot stand
meeting any of the female clerks
they stare at her
rubber gloves
and light blue smock
smile snobbishly
and you have to take it
despite your own
judgment-free and straight-forward
attitude of solidarity
those bitches
she has half a mind
to show them who she really is

she wishes
that some French men would come
to shop for a leather couch
and none of those floozies
could speak a word of French
then she could just step forward
carry out the whole transaction
and leave those floozies there
wide-eyed
full of wonder over
who that cleaning lady was
since she spoke fluent French

or if she got famous one day
and was interviewed by one of those magazines
that those pathetic geese
definitely read:
the architect’s home is decorated in white and purple
the marble bathtub
is rectangular
here Mrs. Architect spends
most of her limited free time
drinking semi-dry white wine from paper cups
reading African poetry
that would be good for those conceited floozies

By Marianne Koluda Hansen ©1979 “Merethe”
Translated by Michael Goldman

This poem about work and class was one of the first by Marianne K. Hansen that I had the pleasure to read. I discovered it with two other poems by her in a used anthology from 1979. This opened my eyes to her as a brilliant writer who had been largely forgotten. Eventually I translated two of her books and got them published as a dual-language collection. This translation was published by drafthorse journal in 2016.