Her long, bent fingers pull relentless. She holds the suede skirt
against her knees. “Everything you ever tear, bring to your Grandma.”
Grandma learned to knit outside Brookside coalmine, the men inside
the tunnels, bringing her worn slacks, and socks, and she obliged.
Obligingly she takes my split seams between arthritic knuckles
And mends them patiently, pausing to brush my hair before bed, a hundred times.
A hundred times she sat beneath the mountain, and toiled smoky hours
with a needle and thread, singing Jean Ritchie and sewing tarry trousers and cotton.
Caught in between the patchwork of mismatched flyover states,
Grandma finds time to visit us when she can, as I get older.
Older women remembered the union men, their collapsed lungs holding
ingrown hearts beneath re-sewn flannels, stored in the kitchen closets, way back.
Way back before I can read or write, I can count a stitch. One over—two over—one
under. Grandma tells me to count the thread like eyelashes, black wishes on linen skin.
Skinned knees dark as tar, Grandma faced J.H. Blair and the anti-unions with nothing but
needles. She worked relentlessly, stitching men together from their caps to their soles.
Souls live at the base of the mountain where we lay grandma. It’s a family plot. An old
cemetery. Men and women and faded headstones—quilted close, joined by scorched seams.
In the spring, be it knuckles, tired mind, or blown out elbows, all I tear, I bring to her.
Desperation smells like vinyl seats
And Skoal, and blue jeans you borrowed
From a Walmart down the road.
This shirt is no longer your mother,
Sitting at the kitchen table drinking
Raspberry sweet tea and talking about
Redemption. This shirt is now a stare
In a rear view mirror, and a physical form
of the phrase, “Tit for Tat”. Better stitch
Your heart back on, little girl. Eden
Ain’t in Little Rock, and Jesus don’t listen
To Patsy Cline. If your big sister saw
You biting your lip like that, why she’d—
You best feel blessed you’ve still got teeth
For biting. Don’t keep your fingers crossed,
(though, those sinning legs you ought to),
for any holy road sign pointing out
the way to greener pastures. That black top
two-laner never saved your Daddy’s soul,
and Salvation may be just another pit-stop
on the way to Calabasas.
Olivia Libowitz is a college student in the poetic assembly line that is liberal arts college. While usually a prose writer, she has found that some sentences as well as thoughts can only be done justice through poetry. Olivia thinks she would write even more if she weren’t so busy trying to experience things interesting enough to be worth writing about.