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What gives meaning to simple things?

Is there a song that reminds you of a particular time or place in your life? Perhaps there is a food that makes you think of a special person or holiday? Even a scent can remind you of a time, place, or person.

Symbols are people, places, or things that stand for or represent something beyond themselves. Writers often use them to convey complex ideas in a few words. For example, in the poem you are about to read, quilts and quilting represent something more significant than the object or activity. 

they were just meant as covers

in winters

as weapons

against pounding january winds

 

but it was just that every morning I awoke to these      

october ripened canvases

passed my hand across their cloth faces

and began to wonder how you pieced

all these together

these strips of gentle communion cotton and flannel nightgowns

wedding organdies

dime-store velvets

 

how you shaped patterns square and oblong and round

positioned

balanced                                                

then cemented them

with your thread

a steel needle

 

how the thread darted in and out                        

galloping along the frayed edges, 

tucking them in

as you did us at night

oh how you stretched and turned and rearranged y

our michigan spring faded curtain pieces

my father’s santa fe workshirt                          

the summer denims, the tweeds of fall

 

in the evening you sat at your canvas

—our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board

me lounging on your arm

and you staking out the plan:                           

whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the

red plaid of winter-going-into-spring

whether to mix a yellow with a blue and white and paint

the corpus christi noon when my father held your hand

whether to shape a five-point star from the            

somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s funeral

 

you were the river current

carrying the roaring notes

 

forming them into pictures of a little boy reclining

a swallow flying   

you were the caravan master at the reins

driving your threaded needle artillery across the mosaic cloth bridges

delivering yourself in separate testimonies

 

oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing

into our past                                           

into the river crossing at five

into the spinach fields

into the plainview cotton rows

into tuberculosis wards

into braids and muslin dresses                          

sewn hard and taut to withstand the thrashings of twenty-five years

 

stretched out they lay

armed / ready / shouting / celebrating

 

knotted with love

the quilts sing on