Charwoman

Young Cornish widow Bessie
after two months in a faraway
land grieved for her husband
struggled with her five children.

New settlers around her pitied
her plight, bought her a mangle
to take in laundry, found her
charwoman’s work scrubbing
rich people’s floors and stairs.

Baptists took  her to heart,
became her family, held her
close in her grief. Each day
her tiny frame lifted wet
laundry from copper through
mangle to rinse tub through
mangle then hung it to
dry in her tiny back yard.

For the rest of each day she
scrubbed floors and doorsteps
while her children attended
school as demanded by law.
to family back home.

Young Tom ran wild, was sent to
reformatory, later taught to farm.
Bessie swallowed her grief, put
her daughters into tailoress
apprenticeships when they
left school at twelve.

They were as small as their
mother but were spared her
burden of laundry and charing.

Charwoman