Monday, May 1, 2006

The Woman and the Wool

for Linda, who asked why, in the long list of those who must not
work on the Sabbath, wives were never mentioned.

I have never made a rug.
Never pushed steel hook through reluctant canvas,
or punched in patterns of ancient roses,
water-deep greens and honeyed yellow.
I have not cut yarn into finger lengths of black
for the final fringe.

I did not know the sheep, nor the shearer.
Did not watch the fleece fall
in waves from the knife, or see the lamb leap
free and naked in the early grass. 
But I do know what it is to drop the burden
of heavy locks that weigh down the head,
of a hair-shirt worn too long,
of my feminine sins.

When the time came to the wash wool, I was not there.
Other hands brushed and combed, shaped
long rolags, pulled fibers and twisted.
But I have heard the spinning wheel’s hymn
and tasted the baptism of dye—
the heavy scent of wet wool, of turned earth,
perfume of red madder, of  woad and weld,
the alum acrid as Protestant guilt.

Still the rug at the door is not my rug.
It belongs to the sheep and to the spinster,
to the mother of my grandmother—
she whose arthritic hands, twisted and hooked,
made those roses bloom on a Sunday when

no work, except by the women, could be done. 

originally published in Penguin Review, 2006

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