We were away the night the car crashed
at the end of our lawn, but the glass shards
and twisted bits of metal we raked,
the carnations tied to the trunk shorn of bark
told some of the story. Today pink plastic
flowers and a white tee shirt are tacked
to a telephone pole on the route I take to work.
I think of Mexico where flowered crosses mark
every curve. They seemed part of a fascination
with death like the wax effigy of Christ,
full-sized and bloody in a glass coffin,
the chest weeping, the flesh extruded
and the tomb open to the public that displayed
a procession of skeletons propped along the wall
their tatters of cloth still clinging.
Thirty years ago my brother fell asleep at the wheel.
No one decorated the concrete with flowers.
And though I wondered, I never asked
which road, which bridge.
Not knowing helped.
I try to imagine the highways and backroads of the world
all flowers and mementos restored
and those that were never placed,
this thin layer of time and space
suddenly crowded, filled with testaments of loss.
Anglo-Saxon lines after Richard Wilbur
Attic trunks talked
whispered, "Touch me.
Spring the latch,
and lift the dome. Look.”
Like Alice I listened,
lifted weighty lids.
Once there lay lace,
fragrance of lavender
Faint in the folds
that unfanned between my fingers.
of cambric, banded by
with a bride's bold initial
cluttered the closet
Bent the boxes
they balanced above
preserved between pages
Their scrawled messages
Snapshots never sorted
by subject or date
Black and white, some bent
Though none were labeled,
I knew some and named them
Noted the number
A letter had lain long
in a leather
Caught in its crease
a curl of hair
Brown as the braid
I held it beside.
“Dear daughter,” it began,
“Dorothea drifted off
as we stood by
singing her favorite psalm.
We buried her
Your loving father, Philip.”
Such scattered segments
To find in fragments
the full figure of a life
Press us for proof
of pattern and purpose.
“Fair Philomel, she but lost her tongue,
And in a tedious sampler sewed her mind.”
William Shakespeare -Titus Andronicus
Great-grandmother set aside room where quilters met
to fill each chest with quilts, thirteen the goal for girls--
Baby Block, Geese in Flight, Bear Claw, Mariner’s Compass.
The one she left unfinished we stretched across a frame to quilt.
We watched our uneven tracks around shapes of fabric she’d stitched into pattern.
Poke the needle into the top through batting into back.
Then the trick to come up close to the stitch going down.
Concentration, no conversation, neck and back ached.
What of the women like one who stitched at her sampler’s edge,
“By Mary Wilson, who hated every minute of it” ?
In lives that offered little choice, they kept their tongues.
Like Philomel, stitching in silence, each had her work to do.
Many of their quilts, plain, dark, serviceable, cut from scraps,
have not survived. Those that remain, saved for “good” or made
by women who died, their unused linens still stacked in chests,
wordless as their makers’ joy in color, silent as their suppressed cries.
Sundays, the blue and white dishes rimmed
the cherry table, its leaves draped in damask.
The lidded bowls, gravy boats and platters
came down from pantry shelves with cruets,
cut-glass celery vases, relish trays
and pickle casters to sit center.
Linen napkins stood at attention near goblets.
Polished silver cutlery and serving spoons,
ladles, and meat forks lay in their appointed places.
All waited for the gold of butternut squash,
white onions afloat in cream, mounds
of mashed potato and steaming brown gravy.
Roast chicken soon would fill the platter,
cover the cottage and pond where a man fishes
and a woman watches, hide the blue spire
that rises from the horizon into a white sky
where above a vining border, ducks fly
and below, ring-necked pheasants peck the rim.
On the sideboard sat the teacups decorated
with horse-drawn wagon heaped with hay
and swallows swooping over a field just mown.
On the stacked saucers the same wagon and man,
a rake resting on his shoulder, cross the stream
over a stone bridge as they head for home.
When my mother inherited Great-Grandmother’s dishes,
she stored them in the back of the cupboard, pulling out
a piece when she ran short. One oblong bowl
she filled with dirt to pot a plant . The glaze,
water soaked, crazed and the lid disappeared
along with the cups that dwindled from a dozen to six.
I’ve reglued handles on lids, replaced chipped plates
and broken cups with what I’ve found in shops.
I’ve propped some plates and platters along the rails
of a hutch I bought for their display. A holiday
brings them down and then they’re washed and put away
with care that sometimes is conferred on age.
Not to Forget
The morning we walked the rows to read each stone
engraved with names that none have called in years,
I told the stories told to me of unknown
worlds. My granddaughter wanted to hear
the tale of a child who died. She stood by the grave’s
granite lamb and looked at its face that bears
not a trace of grief. There he staves
off the forgetting that always comes with time.
We left the cemetery and drove home, gave
our thoughts to the day. My granddaughter’s prime
delight to read a book. My voice intoned
the adventures of a rabbit and an evil fox’s crime.
The story ended. Her brown eyes shone,
“We are alive!” Spirit rebounds from stone.
Carol Nolde’s poetry was anthologized in Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places, the second edition of Love Is Ageless-Stories About Alzheimer’s Disease, Child of my Child, and Richer Resources. . Her chapbook Comfort in Stone was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her chapbook Things Live After will be published in 2018.
* Editor's note: the font size for Unfinished Quilts is slightly smaller to accommodate Nolde's line breaks.