It was a Tuesday morning, my favorite day of the week because it’s so ordinary. Not yet dressed, I was eating my breakfast, reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when I noticed a couple of thick cords drop past my corner window. Window washer I thought and returned to another bite of toast, another front page article. A couple pages later, a young man, fully harnessed unto the two cords briefly met my glance, then in seconds soaped and squeegeed my seventh floor window clean. Though I knew my monthly maintenance fee paid for his services, I still felt amazed and grateful I didn’t have to clean that window that otherwise brings me a quiet joy with what property appraisers refer to as a “beneficial view.” Of course, the appraisers are talking property value, while I consider looking out that window or any window soul food.. Doesn’t really matter what I’m looking at, just that it’s framed by a window. The fact of the frame turns the view, any view—a coal heap, a brick wall, a tree branch—into art.
Billy Collins’ two page poem, “Monday” from The Trouble with Poetry addresses window watching from another point of view:
The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.
Then his poem becomes a bit darker:
…the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.
But, the poem goes on listing the ordinary views to be seen from windows and the necessity of poets’ to keep looking out windows. Then Collins writes the poem’s turn by proposing what it would be like if poets had no windows but only walls by ending “Monday” thusly:
I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman’s heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.
Hardly an appraiser’s beneficial view, yet something I found interesting to remember during breakfast.
Just as I laid aside my newspaper’s first section, I noticed the window washer’s dangling ropes had moved to an adjoining window. I turned to the Local News section, and there was a quarter page color photograph of my window washer, identified as Robby Hessmann, washing the windows of my building! I supposed he must have known his photo had been taken, but he might not have known if or when it would be published. And, besides now I could thank him, so I hurried to find my scotch tape, grabbed a marker, circled his pic, wrote “Thank You” above the page mast, and taped it to my window he would next wash.
I didn’t have to wait long until Robby arrived. He grinned in delight and waved a thank you back. He dug into his pants pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and swung back deep into the morning sky.
I froze in fear. What if I had so distracted him that he lost his grip? Fell to his death? It would be my fault. I’d be the woman whose heart was stone.
Robby Hessmann, though, is one cool dude. He swung back twice—took two cell phone photos—smiled another thank you straight at me, then cleaned my window perfectly.