We are coming down from our pedestal and up from the laundry room - Bella Abzug
Every time I read this poem I feel dirty. Whatever else I may say about Daniels, she does have a knack for dredging up the rawer emotions. In this poem a newly married N, for whatever undisclosed reason, has accompanied her husband to a peep show and stands outside while he does what a man does at a peep show. The implication is that N is unable to satisfy him, so as "a good wife," she allows him a proxy.
So I'm standing on pavement clotted with dried up discs
of hawked-out phlegm and chewing gum, and the air
is redolent with the odor of pot and filthy, unwashed
hair, and curbed pools of human waste glistening
She does ugly well. She then goes on to describe how her mind is simultaneously forcing herself to accept and reject the image of young girls bumping and grinding adolescent hips [that] cost nothing but a quarter. These quarters are provided by N's stash of laundry money, thus highlighting her complicity in her husband's behavior. She also happens to be wearing a diamond ring that once belonged to her mother-in-law.
Finally, there is the irony in this line she stood there on the sidewalk waiting for the man inside/as if he were a prince, as if he were her One True Love...waiting and waiting for something that was promised,/but now (she starts to realize) will never come.
The poem seems to be a young feminist's struggle (it is set in 1978) between what she was raised ON from fairytales and maternal expectations of what she SHOULD be and what the coming of age expectations of what a young feminist is supposed to be with no clear understanding of who she really is or what she WANTS of herself or from a man. Or what is right or wrong. By the end of the poem her illusions are shattered but she is no closer to knowing a better way to be.