The town’s dilapidated Laundromat
Is packed this morning with a crowd of men
And women, hauling bulky laundry sacks—
A full month’s worth, in fact. It’s Saturday,
The last one of the month, the day when all
The members of our church’s outreach team
Provide the rolls of quarters so that they,
The patrons of the joint, don’t have to pay
To wash away the dirt and lives they’ve stained.

It’s only once a month that I work there,
Unpaid for half a day, to emulate
My far more saintly friends by stuffing coins
Into the washers, sixteen at a time,
Until their cycles end; then time to dry
Their flannels, socks, quilts, shirts, and soggy sheets
Until my fingers stiffen at day’s end
And I feel lifted by each soft “thank you”
Muttered by the humble denizens
Of Betty’s Laundromat, though what we’ve done
Seems slight, in retrospect, now having seen
The marks of poverty—the toothless smile,
The sunburned flesh, the stunted child, the boy
Who looks malnourished as his mother flirts
With meth-heads, flashing their addictive wares,
The broken home, the unemployed . . .
          It’s clear
Why Christ said that we’d always have the poor.

And yet, at day’s end, as they fold their clothes,
A silence falls. The cotton diapers glow, 
The shirts and sheets are purified as snow.
A single mother smiles, holding her son,
Glad that she’s freed from her incarceration.
Now having washed away her petty crime
Like soap, she bubbles gratitude and hope 
While I, her witness, learn to do my time
Among the poor in spirit as I seek
A cleansing that might make my spirit shine
As if baptized in the river Jordan.

Blessed are the hungry, pure of heart, and meek.

—Paul Lake