The Art of Weaving

Stekkjarnes, Iceland

There is weaving, and then there is sewing,

with sleeves, cuffs, collars, hems and pockets

with crosses in the corner, that do not tear,

and there is darning, which is done with an egg

of polished birch wood as pale as dandelion syrup.

These are the arts of making the world out of a string,

tying it off and cutting it. Sheep are its greatest artisans,

out in the heather and the rain,

out in the wandering and the lying in the sun,

and the coming in when the world vanishes

and there is only snow and the milling in the barn.

There is knitting, which is done with two sticks

and used to be practiced while walking,

that is now done in kitchens, where conversation weaves

back and forth and clatters and clacks

and produces charms which men will wear

over their hearts soon enough. I promise,

they won’t refuse this yoke.

Outside, swallows weave the light above the lake.

The poet remarked on it, high on an Italian hill,

until the world’s anguish defeated him.

With nothing else but woven thoughts he tried to stop

a war that came on him like a freight

train through the mountains. He was jailed

for that, and then locked up with Napoleon.

It is better just to see what the swallows are weaving.

They fly to such height that a woman watching

sees the highest one, then her vision clears

and she sees another, higher.

There is no end to swallows in a mountain summer.

There is the devotional practice called cross-stitch

and the one called “A thousand flowers,”

that are done with blue thread on white cloth, like porcelain,

and then there is the mending of nets,

which is what men work at in winter storms

when sheep breathe the barn’s dark,

which is not weaving but knotting,

and not tying off but catching one

cord with another and joining them:

one spell for each fish in the sea.

It is done between bouts of drinking

a distillation of meadow flowers called Black Death.

In men’s glasses, it is absolutely clear.

Once there was the weaving that women strung

when their men waged battle: each cross of weft and warp

mirrored men the world. On their own,

the poor pups were blind to its song.

The maps they had only showed the path away.

They reached out into the dark, and there

women found them, and drew them near.

A woman and I used to lie abed in the mornings

exactly like that, while swallows knitted the room,

the bed, the sheets and our bodies with their shadows

as they wove the light, and the light wove us.

It is an understatement, but in time a man learns

that’s what he breathes and what he is breathing for.

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