Kathryn Stripling Byer
We never doubted the hoop
in which we cast our stories would hold
fast, the stitches we made
last as long we held the cloth steady.
Not once did we heed the underside
whereon the knots gnarled their own story,
nubby as scars from a wound
or a welt left behind by a switch.
We never doubted our own fingers
threading the tendrils of mercerized cotton
through steel eyes, each licked tip
we pushed through as small
as the lint we launched into the bedrooms
when we shook the weathered chenille,
settling itself on the carpet like dandruff
she scraped from our scalps
every dusk with such ruthless care
we could hear the Big Dipper ringing
the night's bucket. No lice.
Not even the tiniest nit. Thankful,
we sank into feather beds,
blessing each other, the chickens,
the mules, even sows at the trough,
knowing we had been scrubbed
clean as ever we would be,
our nails clipped,
our noses blown,
every black signet of dirt pried
from under our fingernails.
The window fans blowing
their currents through passageways,
hummed like the treadle of God stitching
the fabric we called home, the earth
drawing over us its heirloom of dust.
Originally appeared in Southern Poetry Review