Client East Bay Suites, Grand Marais, Minnesota, photo by James C. Henderson
Categories Poems in the Time of Pandemic, Poetry
Location New Brighton, Minnesota
Date April 18, 2020

James C. Henderson

I make the bed every morning
I do the grocery shopping
vacuum the carpets, and wash the clothes.
I guess you could call me
an essential worker.
I do such a good job making the bed
my wife tells me I can get
a job in a hotel when this pandemic is over.

I appreciate the job
housekeepers do in hotels
and always feel guilty leaving them
a messed up bed to go sightseeing
like my wife and I used to do on vacation
in Grand Marais, Minnesota
a small tourist town beside the vast
icy waters of Lake Superior.

Once, I started to make the bed myself
before we left the room
to go breakfast at the Blue Water Cafe
or spend the idle hours looking at art
shopping for moccasins
or feeding bits of pancake to seagulls.
But my wife stopped me
saying the housekeeper had to change the sheets
before she could make the bed.

Change the sheets every day?
At home, I change the sheets only once a week.
Feeling privileged, I continued to make the bed.
“Stop,” yelled my wife
who is normally a good person
“she gets paid to make the bed.”

Still, I worried—not all day—but off and on
at the county museum
perusing fish nets that smelled of lake trout
and wooden buoys peeling red and white paint
eating an ice cream cone at the drugstore
that the housekeeper was working too hard.

I know casting sheets over a bed’s smooth surface
especially the bedspread, often quilted and heavy
is hard on your back.
Making a bed is a tough job
that involves a lot of stooping
folding and tucking, folding and tucking.

“Don’t you think the glazed donuts
are essential?” my wife asks me
before the glass cases in the
World’s Best Donuts shop
as I watch people pass along the sidewalks:
waitresses, grocery clerks
gas station attendants, truck drivers
mothers and fathers
children dressed in yellow windbreakers
the parents holding onto the little ones’ hands
as they hurry across the street
even though no cars are coming.

They’re on their way to the lakeshore
I’ve seen it a hundred times before—
where the parents will stand stock still
and scan the horizon for ore boats
manned by men who sail weeks at a time
to deliver iron ore to smelters out east
to make steel, the spine of industry
while the children dig for agates among the rocks
and the housekeeper, eyes on her work
folds and tucks, folds and tucks
bed after bed, room after room.