house cleaning

A housecleaning tip comes from Adrienne Rich, via Jules (thank you to her for drawing my attention here). It's from a poem called "Living in Sin":

She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime.
A plate of pears, a piano with a Persian shawl,
a cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman's tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles;

I've always disliked that in our times we constantly refer to relationships as "hard work" -- I understand the comparison, but I think there's something stultifying for us to reduce every aspect of our lives to the rules and descriptions of labor. Alienated labor, no less. But this poem captures the bewildered awakening to the fact that love accumulates dust. That someone must take the decision to dust that furniture, or to ignore the dust and live joyously and messily through it, or to be confused and turn to some other form (poetry?), or to be disappointed and move on once the dust accumulates (surely there's something defective with the armoir of love if it can't keep dust away, the latter seem to say).

If it's labor to dust the furniture of love, though, it's not to be confused with a time-clock, a salary, a list of duties, the fulfillment felt from achieving goals in that realm. Is it too cute by half to say there's something like "a labor of love"? What I mean is that love is not 'hard work", relationships are not work in the typical sense of the word. No more than being alive is work. It is, of course, yes, yes--but not in the typical sense--and to reduce it to this precise manifestation is a limitation that leads to alienation. Rich's image of a young woman discovering with astonishment dust and messy traces where she expected a magical continuity of brightness is thus a fitting image. No one is shocked that dust appears in that other realm of labor ("what did you expect??!"), but in the realm of love, one has to do more than become accomodated to the fact of the dust. One has to come to love the squeaky stairs under the relentless milkman's step. Astonishment, but not alienation.