In the needlepoint room your urgency
was lonely. It did not belong.
Your urgency was a black street
running down the center
of the moon, and the room
was gold chimes, July slow-spun in Carolina tile,
a shelf of Willow Ware lining the wall
past a glass table, sun-stained
and budded with girls
lifting their hoops to Miss Harriet
who drifted in French curves
over petals of red and purple wool.
You loved the way the yarn pulled taut
through the net. The way the yarn
came back when you asked it—
you could send it through
the plastic mesh, shining like breath
and it would answer you, would give
you one more stitch
as long as you had enough slack:
you could make sky
like a dull ballad of pearls or a chair
your mother could sit in, if your mother
were made of yarn
and soft as its tufted braid
and able to listen for your needle.
You’d cluster Scotch stitches to fill a chair
with the gold of her perfume
on the night she was still married
and left with your father
in her best dress, feathered red.
She was a crimson bird
and they were both home by ten.
When Miss Harriet’s china clock
found noon, her hands were lined with light.
You wanted your body to unspool for you like this,
a summer that could not come to pass.
Then it was time: your purse
at the door and your sister
idling her Ford in the drive.
You’d stay on this porch
if you could, waiting to be taken
up in a loop of sun,
swung through Miss Harriet’s weft
into Willow-glass air—
not home to the butterflies your mother
stitched and mounted, now pilling
in the warp, their scales spread
in fraying squares across the grid,
hearts’ hum flat under glass. You won’t listen
to your radio, play cards. You’ll perch
on the cracked couch
pulling the yarn through, knowing
your lap won’t have enough to last
past supper, still pulling, willing the canvas to brighten,
to keep July on, to shine with a fine
old name, Harriet, with primrose
and blinding wings.
In Prayer Now,
I stiffen like the pine
and the side-yard bones of dry October ash
chewed by moonlight, vying,
I remember, with winds that clawed
the upstairs glass,
or like the girl I was then, inside,
hugging my rose-quilted chest to my knees
on the bath mat shag, Sunday nights—
waiting for my mother’s brush
to come down
and find the angels snarled
and jangling, hurling
their crazed constellations
through my scalp’s dark sky.
There was steam in the room
and her robe warmed my feet
where it pooled and her hair
tenting mine, hiding me, brushing its wings
over my shoulders, drifting, was shining,
was the Holy Ghost,
loosening its feathered breath, measureless
over the damp skin
that housed me then.
Flight is prayer. Flight is,
at heart, maternal. In the tangle
of bristle and stars, in the tearing
I swear I cannot leave, I want
to ask you, God to whom I am speaking
where the house went, what the ash touched most,
where is the claw now and the curl and why
have I never learned to bend?