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Arhm Choi Wild (they/them/their) reads their poem, "The Family Business: Iris Cleaners."

Arhm Choi Wild:

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My name is Arhm Choi Wild.

I'm the author of Cut to Bloom and a poet and DEI coordinator based in New York City. I use they/them pronouns, and I'm super excited to share my poem with you today called "The Family Business." And just a special shout-out to all the essential workers, especially the first generation and people whose English is not their first language.

Some people have problems distinguishing a dry cleaner from a laundromat but Mother wasn't meant to make her mouth a seam, wash blood out of sheets or the piss of an aging man every week and my belly is too full and my car is too new for us to forget, so I will tell you a laundromat is the one with the quarters and the dry cleaner is where workers finger spots of wine like bruises. Mr. Washington never fails to ask for a discount no matter how hard it is to get his chocolate stains out.

Mr. Francis always brings clothes with foundation and eye shadow in the fabrics of his collar, tells me of drunken nights; it's not hard to figure out why he winks. Ms.

Miller walks in with one ear punched by a steel rod, other lobe, four rings. One day I ask her what it symbolized and she replies It's a statement I make so people will realize that a woman can decorate her body without being flooded with questions. She quizzes me on what I unlearned about the patriarchy in the last week and loves when Mom has her clothes ready before she's in the door.

Lately in these summer days Mom comes home braised with heat rash because if lucky, it's only twenty degrees hotter inside than out. We could make a separate fortune if she chose not to play good Samaritan but she returns every quarter found in pockets. Chemical scents follow her like a conscience and her hands stay constant with cracks no lotion can recover.

She used to count on fingers the shirts and sweaters soaked with sweat and blood she'd washed to pay my cell phone bill. I thought she was just imposing guilt till when working one day a man with a snarl slick with spit full of English words Mom didn't know, but felt, threatened to sue for the stubborn spot of wine he let sit for weeks, the jacket he left at a hotel but blamed us for losing, surely unable to defend ourselves, Mom barely five feet tall, too polite to wipe his spit off her chin. Two weeks later, a brick without a head to fly toward breaks the window in the middle of the night and we can no longer be proud without looking out of place.

Mom doesn't call the cops and pays extra to fix the window by Monday. If I save myself in time I won't be lost in this business of erasing everything so I need you to remember a laundromat is the one with the quarters and the dry cleaner is where my mother will give them back to you if you leave them in your pockets.