“I Wash the Shirt” is a prose poem composed of nineteen lines that vary greatly in length. It is a very short work, but, like many of Anna wir’s poems, it is rooted deeply in her private life. The author describes washing the shirt of her recently deceased father, a task so personal that wir kept the poem to herself for several years; it was only published posthumously by her daughter. Although it can be appreciated on its own, the reader who understands something of wir’s life and circumstances will see more meaning in it than others will. In many of her poems, wir depicts her father as a strong, gentle man who took pride in his people’s culture and who labored continually to depict that heritage in his art despite the lifetime of poverty and struggle he endured to do so. This image is continued in “I Wash the Shirt.” He was a painter who specialized in religious and historical themes, and the title refers to wir washing the shirt he wore while working in his studio. Since he did not wear the shirt outside, he merely asked his daughter to dry it on the wood-burning stove that heated his workshop rather than iron it. For wir, the shirt has strong associations with her father’s daily toil as well as with his passion and pride; even its scent, as she puts it into the wash water, reminds her of him.
wir compares washing the shirt with the other times she washed her father’s clothing, which always smelled of his perspiration. She has...
(The entire section is 449 words.)