Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry by Laura Grace Weldon

He lowers himself
on a seat they call a cradle, rocking
in harnesses strung long-armed
from the roof.

Swiping windows clean
he spends his day
outside looking in.

Mirrors refract light into his eyes
telescopes point down
photographs face away,
layers of dust
unifying everything.

Tethered and counterbalanced
these sky janitors hang,
names stitched on blue shirts
for birds to read.
Squeegees in hand they
arc lightly back and forth across
the building’s eyes
descend a floor, dance again.

While the crew catches up
he pauses, takes a slim volume from his pocket
and balancing there,
36 stories above the street,
reads a poem or two
in which the reader is invariably placed
looking out.

Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry

This poem, subtitled (for Michael, who carried poems in his work shirt pocket), caught my attention for its whimsical narrative as the poet explains the why through imagery. I’m sure you’ve seen such window washers; perhaps, like me, you shudder to think of hanging in mid air, or perhaps you can feel the freedom of it. She tells us that he spends his day / outside looking in.

Sky janitors she calls them, tethered and counterbalanced, as we all are on this earth, with their names stitched on blue shirts / for birds to read, (do birds read poems too?). They clean the building’s eyes as they dance from floor to floor. So far she is describing in simple but evocative terms the cleaning being done, then 36 stories up comes a pause to read a poem or two.

We do not learn the names of the poems, just that in them, the reader is invariably placed /inside /
looking out.
Inside looking out, outside looking in: makes me wonder if that is what we are all doing each day. By now, we realize she has not told us why he reads poetry, simply shown us that it is important enough for this man to pause in his precarious work to read another poem.

Whether you are dangling from a harness tethered to a roof, or feet on the ground, any time is good to take a moment to read a poem. Where are you as you read this one?

8 thoughts on “Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry by Laura Grace Weldon

  1. Sitting under an old-fashioned hair dryer, the kind with a hood. No kidding. With naturally curly hair, this is the easiest way for me to set my curls and go from wet to dry. But there has been an unexpected side benefit. For this 20 minutes, I must sit still. There is warm air and a cup of coffee nearby. And I always read during this time – today the poem and the chapter of a book. I didn’t expect it, but being forced to sit still, has been a beautiful gift. Time to read and let poetry sink in.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this poem, and the “outside looking in” reminder. I just got back from walking on the beach, looking at all the windows of the houses on the bluff, and then out to sea. Clearing the mind, walking the body.
    Thanks for posting this!


  3. I’m in the attic with a coffee. Blissfully alone for the first time all week.
    This poem reminded me of a conversation we had with our son yesterday. He’s a mason, and has to get up early for work. His partner and Carl were teasing him for getting up earlier than he needs to, and his response was, “I like to ease into the day and start by greeting it gently. I look out the windows at the world, perhaps do some stretching, go for a brief walk with the dog…”
    Like the window-washer, there is a pause in my son’s day. One that I understand.

    Thank you for this, dear Jan. xoxo


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