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Knots for R. L. | Poem


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A poem a day to the Millennium December 10, 1999


If you listen you will hear
The ceaseless noise of weaving: 
The slap of the shuttle or
The careful tatting of a tablecloth;
Knot upon knot and more.
My mother knew this craft,
Made me tighten
A knot for every pain of labor,
Every late-night lingering goodbye.
It was taught to her by Grandmother
Who sits loose and lavender-eyed 
In the harsh twilight of unweaving,
She is almost ninety, yet others are leaving;
Have gone, failed to keep at the tying.
They work at a tiny hole 
Through which they slip
Before her and without her,
As thoughtlessly as the immortal
Fingers of a child.

We do not seek this bitter end,
An untying of anyone so
Seventeen, so nimble-fingered.  So
A bowline is cast, a slip-knot
At the last, and having failed, a half-hitch
Hope for salvation: for continuity,
Prayers of square knots.
Poverty.  Obedience.  Chastity.
Prayers pieced together in jute,
In silk threads a novena, in cotton twirled
Between fingers wet with spit twined
With teeth biting lower lips and hair
Spun in white thread three times round-
The sacred OM.

We didn't know that all the while, 
Just drinking coffee or listening to the Dead,
Didn't know we'd sit and tat,
Didn't know for years.
Sit, sit, sat, tit-for-tat we
Knotted in families, loves, friends, pains;
Tied while driving cross-country, 
Tied while catching glimpses 
Or when caught staring.  We
Are always tending to tablecloths that 
Are never without holes, that 
Are stained with wine-rings and egg yolk;
Crumbs on the wood beneath
Unsettling our recklessly porcelain cups.

Copyright  Erin Poh
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