Sunday, December 9, 2018

Introducing New Frequent Contributor Charles A. Swanson

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present a special double feature, "Quilted" and "Black Holes" by Charles A. Swanson, one of our new Frequent Contributors.  Charles' bio may be found in the "Our Staff" page.

Charles A. Swanson
Pieced from Papa, a little of World War II,
and Mama, scraps of a failed marriage,
a double wedding ring stitches me in,

circle of mountain past, circle of city hope. 
Log cabin shade and light, something of darkness
and chimney smoke, the smell of old fabric,

cloth saved, raw cotton for batting, I recognize
composite of genius and frugality, waste nothing.
I am not so new, never was, as reclaimed

and made pretty—a needle thrust into tomorrow,
a seam sewn by a domestic hand.  A bear claw
and a pinwheel, a little fear, a little play,

but most of all a warmth, I’m all of these.
Lay under me, love, on a cold, troubled night,
though I have my haunts, I will comfort you.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is dedicated to Grace Toney Edwards who taught English and who advanced the study of Appalachian literature at Radford University for many years.  She loves quilts.

My wife quilts and when she puts her needle into a top pieced by her grandmother or by mine, one of those tops whose patterns were sewn together but never quilted to a back, she feels as if she is touching kindred hands with a frugal and thrifty artisan of years past.  Such is the strength of a quilt, especially when a scrap here, or a piece there, is one saved from cloth worn by someone in the family.

My grandmother also made crazy quilts, solid blocks on which she added her own embroidery patterns.  Her “BER” (her initials), her words, “Remember Me,” and her free-form flowers still speak out of her needle, that needle she used to quilt us into her life.

Editor’s Note:  The personification of the quilt really works here. I love the soft, cozy ending.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Black Holes
Charles A. Swanson

For any work of art, the palette spins
in dreams.  Imagination sorts the thin
and nondescript from the fat and rich.
How orange blazes, makes loud the witch
of Halloween, but beige is colorless.
I choose the bright, the sun that scours the west.
I see it in my mind.  But I also choose
the beige to soften all this noise.  I lose
the rainbow when I pick the blackest black
to border every afghan square.  This black
is traditional, but when I also pick
the same lost black to make the squares, the click
of Grandma’s soft tsk catches me.   Not that,
she says.  It won’t work.  It’ll be too flat.
But somehow I see blank windows of night
and know that every short day cycles, light
gives way to what I can’t see, don’t know.
And I must work the dark night of the soul.

Poet’s Notes:  Once, many years ago, a boy of nineteen sat with a woman of eighty-one in front of an open fireplace.  He had learned to crochet that fall and now had come to live with his grandmother on a small farm in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia.  As he attended college, he worshiped at her Baptist church, played pick-up basketball at the college gym, and helped his uncles with chores.  

Two small homemade chairs drawn to the fire, the only heat in the living room became symbolic of a recurrent time to talk and work.  He looped the yarn for squares of his first afghan, running the thread through his fingers and onto the hook, twisting it into the stitches known as single and double crochets.  His grandmother sat beside him, easing her arthritic limbs in the heat of the fire and always busy herself with some kind of handwork.

I was that boy—and still am that boy as I travel back through the vehicle of poetry.  I also travel back each time I pick up the crochet hook.  I have moved past the traditional “granny square,” edged with black, with which I started, but I still see that archetypal pattern, good for beginners as well as experienced hands, on television shows in background staging.   Invariably, the squares are finished with a black row, despite all the color within the square.  

To edge the pattern with a color other than black seems somehow daring—somehow irreverent.  Even as a nineteen-year-old, I was one to play with the rules.  I loved following the pattern and breaking it at the same time—much as I love form and freedom in poetry.  Although I edged my squares with the expected black, I upset that pattern on my first afghan by making some squares a solid black.  Grandma objected, but, when all the squares were whipped together at long last, she gave me the approval I cherished.  

The solid black squares reminded me of windows at night.  The rest of the squares, vivid with color inside their black frames, represented the warmth of the fire, the friendship of conversation, the light I needed to balance the dark.

Editor’s Note:  I take pleasure in the mood here--somehow somber and hopeful simultaneously.  While knowledge of crochet would be requisite for a complete understanding, the poem may be enjoyed even without that.  The ending gives an interesting insight into the speaker.

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