Begoña M Rueda won the prestigious Hiperión poetry award for her moving and eye opening collection based on her experiences as a laundry worker in a hospital during the height of of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has worked in Hospital Punta de Europa, in Algeciras doing the laundry since 2019 while writing poetry on the side.
Her latest collection Servicio de lavandería (Laundry Service) provides a ‘raw, harrowing, angry, tender, and sometimes funny, dispatch from the sweltering, invisible realm of washers, dryers, detergents and body fluids’, according to The Guardian.
“At eight, people step on to their balconies to applaud / the labours of the doctors and the nurses / but few applaud the labours of the woman who sweeps and mops the hospital / or of those of us who wash the linen of the infected / with our bare hands.” [trans. Sam Jones]
According to Rueda she wanted to “look not just at the pain and suffering that the pandemic has brought, but also at the joy of the people who have managed to beat the virus and recover”.
Meanwhile, she also drew “people’s attention to the working-class job of working in a laundry.” She commented that “traditionally, some people have looked down on it as a job, and I also wanted to empower the women who do it – and it is overwhelmingly a job done by women, although that’s beginning to change”.
Though a key theme of the poems is the sadness the job can bring. She remembers wondering if the child who wore the blue pair of pyjamas she was ironing was ever discharged.
The following extract, written one week after lockdown began in Spain (and on the exact day that lockdown began in the UK).
Extract: 23 March 2020, The Shrouds Are Piling Up in Cardboard Boxes
The shrouds are piling up in cardboard boxes
by the bathroom door
They’re the only hospital linen
that isn’t washed after use
Like everything else these days
they come in plastic,
ready to meet death like factory-baked goods,
wrapped and straight to the void
You wonder who makes the shrouds
what cold machine sews and packs them
ready to cover any of the bodies that lie in the morgue
For my shroud I’d like my mother’s hands, to die before her
and to lie once more in her womb,
to be a little girl again and have no idea
that in hospital laundries
death piles up in cardboard boxes
next to the toilets.
(From Laundry Service by Begoña M Rueda, published by Hiperión, translated by Sam Jones, The Guardian)