Every year I make my pilgrimage
to a cathedral of the homely arts.
For days, our noisy Expo Center
is transformed by muted celebration.
In sets of three, sheets of black muslin
are hung to make secluded chapels.
And women ambulate among them,
entering each station to regard
bright windows mounted, one per panel,
that shimmer jewel-like on ersatz walls.
How hushed the conversations of these women
who are both makers and acolytes.
Skilled critique of one another’s work
brims with tribute for their common art.
My mother, loved to dazzle friends by piecing
unlike fabrics with careful stitches,
to feel the crisp hand of a new-sewn quilt.
I know she’d like to be with me, today,
standing before these coverlets,
akin to other expert women,
sharing the arcana of nine-patch,
broderie, log cabin, stack-and-whack.
Loss of sight ended her membership
in this sisterhood. Her quilts never
found a place in this cathedral, but
descendents dream beneath them every night.
Blending solitude and company
A sacred society of quilters
is much like any band who tend
a holy fire: lonely hours spent
cutting, stitching a thousand pieces,
balanced by assemblies of friends
who, gathered at the quilt, sew backing,
batting and top to one another.
Cards pinned to every counterpane describe
the sweet interplay of work and prayer:
“Three friends made this quilt in different colors.”
“ I worked this one while I was taking chemo.”
“This prairie rose was my first best in show,”
proclaim sacred texts of this communion.
A bed turning is about to start:
Women stand either side of a heap
of quilts. One tells the story of each work.
Helped by her friend, she flings a cover back.
As if relics were to be unveiled,
she displays a wonder that has cost
two hundred hours of her life. Time
she might have spent with spouse, grandchildren,
but that she gave instead to her exacting craft.
She says her beds and walls are layered
at least five deep with such masterpieces,
her cats have favorite ones to sleep on.
White angora hairs prove what she says.
I marvel at her dedication.
Yet, should I find such devotion strange?
Composing a poem, do I not leave
letters unsent, beds unmade, to seek
the-very-words In my bag of scraps?
I think again of my mother’s quilts,
that never collected prizes in a show,
and yet, were the work she had to do,
essential to her getting on with life.
From hers and these examples, I can learn
obedience to beauty and to craft.