The Poetics of Laundry—A Garden Looking To Be Tamed


Doing the laundry is akin to reading The Iliad. There is the ritual of loading the washer. If not done regularly, the task of clean clothes becomes a burden. Such is the work of The Iliad. If a commitment to read daily is not made, your charge to push through to the end of it seems overwhelming.

A charge it is as the description of war takes up at least half of The Iliad. And no two battles are the same. “…every battle rises above the last in greatness, horror, and confusion.” (Alexander Pope)

Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus by Nikolai Ge
Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus by Nikolai Ge

In Oaxaca, my life is easy. I stuff my clothes in a bag and carry them up a cobbled pathway and drop them off at Lavanderia Burbumatic. Some days, it is loco at the laundry. The mound of clothes is a Mount Olympus.

I imagine the lavandera lifting her head from those mounds and crying “Oh dear brother, help us! Give us your horses—so I can reach Olympus….” (The Iliad, 5: 359-60, as translated by Robert Fagles.)

I don’t know how they keep it all straight yet week after week whatever I put in in that bag, I get back—unlike at home. There a sock-eating Cyclops that lives inside my washing machine. He must. How else could so many sock “singlets” go missing?

My comrades left me here in the Cyclops’ vast cave…It’s a house of blood and gory feasts, vast and dark inside. (The Aeneid, as translated by A. S. Kline) Oops! Mixing classics.

The Cyclops by Odilon Redon
The Cyclops by Odilon Redon

Burbumatic must be monster free as my socks, like vowels in Ionic diphthongs, are reunited and layered between the pants and leggings. Each piece of clothing is folded art, a cotton origami.

Budapest is in my future. I’m very excited. I will miss Oaxaca, my neighborhood laundry, yet soon I’ll be walking the streets of Buda looking for my local patyolat. Patyolat??

Spoiler alert! At last, when young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shown once more, …the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses. (The Iliad, 24:926, 944, as translated by Robert Fagles.)

Achilles Slays Hector
Achilles Slays Hector

We’re reading The Iliad this May in the Global Reading Group, a virtual literary salon. Contact me to join @ And, it’s not all battles! We’re looking at food too!μαϊντανοσαλάτα-σύρου/

The Hungarian National Epic

Nikola Šubić Zrinski's Charge from the Fortress of Szigetvár
Nikola Šubić Zrinski’s Charge from the Fortress of Szigetvár by Johann Peter Kraft, 1825

I’m addicted to epics! I admit it. I’ve read 13 of them so far but a few days ago I stumbled upon The Siege of Sziget, the Hungarian national epic. Where had this one been hiding? Within the Hungarian language, apparently, as it has only recently been published for the first time ever in English. (THE SIEGE OF SZIGET by Miklos Zriny, as translated by László Kõrössy. Catholic University of America Press, 2011.)

The Siege of Sziget is a latecomer in the European epics. Written in 1647 by Miklós Zríny, it tells the story of the final battle of another Miklós Zríny (the author’s great granddad) against the Ottomans in 1566. The Ottomans were the victors but at a heavy cost with 20,000 Turks lost including Sultan Suleiman, their leader. However, it stopped the Ottomans from pushing forward towards Vienna that year and so from the Christian point of view, the Battle, although a loser, was successful.

From the the little I have read so far, The Siege of Sziget has all the characteristics of the traditional epic. It begins with an invocation to a Muse; there is a bloody battle; and things get mixed up (or conveniently arranged depending on one’s point of view) by the interference of the gods, or in this case, God. I’ll be adding The Siege of Sziget to the list of upcoming epics in the Global Reading Group, a virtual literary salon, so send me a note if you’d like to read along.

For more info on The Siege of Sziget and its translation, visit

And, as an extra bonus, here is Szigeti veszedelem, or The Siege of Sziget , in Hungarian.

Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent as a young man by Nakkas Osman, 1579.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Istanbul Turkey
Photo courtesy of Bilkent University

Something of interest I discovered was that Suleiman, known as Suleiman the Magnificent, was also a poet and a big time supporter of the arts during his 46 year reign. Most of his poems were written to his wife, the daughter of an Orthodox priest who had been abducted and sold as a slave in Constantinople. Reportedly, the great Suleiman was quite mad about Hurrem Sultan—so much so that she was the only one of his harem he made his legal wife. You can read one of his lovely ghazals here:

My weekly prompt (feel free to use it too): Write a ghazal. Here are some words to consider incorporating in the poem: to crush, to blow, to swell, stiff-necked, Constantinople, blanket, and blood. Use a title of rank and the imperative “Believe, believe…”