Poetry: The Smocking Brick | clivejames.com
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The Smocking Brick

Across twelve thousand miles of land and ocean
I came here to get most of my work done.
Writings that were no more than a mere notion
One day, and for a while were just begun,
Grew out of those few lines to their fruition
As if I were remembering the sun
And surf of my original condition,
When first I saw the shell the silkworm spun

Was like a golden thimble for my mother
As she worked at the smocking brick. No book
Could be so neatly written. Now no other
Memory haunts me like the pains she took
To decorate those tiny frocks. The weather
Has nothing here to match how thunder shook
Our windows, but still, floating like a feather,
Her needle hand, obeying her fixed look,

Would build neat lattices hour after hour.
Now, for her son, the hours grow few, and yet
I might, impelled by that first taste of power,
Write something to pay off an ancient debt
If I sit up till dawn. Down to the wire,
While I can still breathe I will not forget
Networks of silk that glowed with pastel fire
While she stitched through the day until sunset.

It all took time, and time is a wild river
That one day ceases to reflect the sky.
Eventually the spinning coin will shiver,
The rumble as it falls end with a sigh.
When there is honest toil in the endeavour
Piece-work is noble but cannot defy
The night, which will not wait for me forever.
Her work kept us alive, and as I die

I’m certain I will think of the precision
With which she placed the last stitch in a row.
Never until the failing of her vision
Did she cease to prepare her cloth and sew
With her fine thread the rhymed and scanned equation
Of pure expression and punctilio
That made each separate séance an occasion.
But why was she so quiet? Now I know.

I know now that the shadow of non-being
Will visit anyone who does these things
And stay till they are done. All I was seeing
Was somebody arranging offerings
Before an altar, but there is no saying
Which god was served. What grace such worship brings
Is slow to show itself. We just keep praying
Until that rapt moth spreads its perfect wings

And leaves a cracked cocoon to be translated
Into the luscious filament employed
When seeing squares of cotton recreated,
Making another mother overjoyed
At how her child, too young to get excited
By how she looks, in fact a bit annoyed,
Becomes a princess. Suitably requited,
The toiling seamstress profits from the void:

And finally a poem, too, must render
Obeisance to the dark where it can shine
As only one more star, for no defender
Of this art, which I still hope to make mine,
Denies the overstock we’re buckling under.
Yet the compulsion lives. Shaping a line
To mark the shock of recollected thunder,
I stitch the lightning into my design

And see again that tireless needle gleaming
As if its contrapuntal play of light
Were part of what was made. If I were dreaming
I would not also see the fruit-bat’s flight
So clearly, or the frangipani blooming,
Their shades of butter in plush cusps of white.
But this is real, and now. The breakers booming
Spatter my eyes with salt tears as I write.