Green Hills Literary Lantern

Piecing

 

   

            My grandpa’s jeans sagged in the back, and my grandma looked nervous.  She stood on her tiptoes, trying to peer into the Las Vegas/St. George airport shuttle’s dark windows, and only when I emerged did she smile and elbow forward to give me a bony hug. 

            “I hope the flight wasn’t too long,” she said, as my grandpa picked up my suitcase and drove us to their one-level townhouse with its red-tiled roof.  My grandma wiped her forehead with a Kleenex, but once we were inside my skin shriveled from the air-conditioning.  “Is there anything special you wanted to do this week?”

            I shrugged.  From the age of twelve, when I’d learned to quilt, my grandma and I had spent a week together each summer, completing a project.  But now that they’d moved to southwest Utah, I was no longer able to bring my sewing machine along.  Plus, this time we only had four days.  Starting a new project felt like a yawn after traveling, leaving me lethargic and empty of excitement.

I followed my grandma into the guest bedroom, where I set down my bag.  The quilts in the rack marked the passing of time: the pieced tulip wall-hanging she’d made five summers ago draped next to the pinwheel baby quilt completed just last week.  “Would you like to see what I’ve been working on?” she asked, hand on the closet doorknob.  The hinges creaked, emitting the soft scent of rosewater, and as she reached for a stack of fabric on the top shelf, a separate quilt fell to the ground with a thump.  A twin-sized Grandmother’s Flower Garden, made from six rows of hexagonal flowers, all posed on a yellow background.

            “What’s this?” I asked.  I remembered starting my own a few years before, cutting enough fabric and paper templates for seven flowers before finding the hand-piecing too tedious.

            She glanced at it; “Oh, that old thing.  I don’t know why I keep it.  I’ll never finish it.”  She laid it out on the guest bed, and we both began to run our fingers across the seams.  Definitely a work of the seventies—fuchsia and purple next to an aquamarine plaid, a ketchup-red print beside green ferns and blue flowers. 

“Mmm.  I like it.” And I did.  I had grown a fondness for ugly things—for ugly, overlooked fabric that, when sewn into a quilt, became necessary to a larger pattern.  The larger pattern, in fact, more arresting in its beauty because of the ugliness of its scraps. 

I pictured the quilt in my quilt rack or spread across my bed.  It demanded attention.

My grandma picked at a red thread stuck on one of the flowers and tried to smooth the wrinkles with her hand. “Really?” She asked; “Well then, you should take it home with you.  I was just going to throw it away.”  And without another comment she rolled the quilt up and placed it in a plastic bag.

            All week long, until I had to catch my flight back to Minnesota, I peeked into my suitcase and poked at the unfinished edges—the basted, un-quilted layers somehow raw.  My grandma had often given me quilting items—I owed much of my fabric to her, as well as my sewing machine—but this quilt, incomplete and disregarded, spoke to me of something my grandma could not say—something that I, the oldest granddaughter, and the only relative who quilts, could not ignore. 

            Back in Minnesota, I put the bag in my closet, intending to work on it later in the summer.  But soon I was packing clothes again to return to college, the quilt pushed aside in the last minute rush for almost-forgotten items.

 

A photograph: my grandma and I on the La Crosse Queen, a Mississippi paddlewheeler, during the last of my summer visits to her home in Dakota, Minnesota.  Her arms hang at her sides, and in the shadow her hands look clenched.  But she is smiling, though her large sunglasses block her eyes.  The thin black strap of her purse pulls at the collar of her blouse, and her hair almost matches the white of the railing—the white of the life preserver.  I stand next to her, slightly taller and somehow underdressed in shorts and a striped pastel t-shirt.  I have pulled my bangs away from my face with a bobby pin and finger a purse I had made of the fabric squares my grandma gave me the year before.

I took a picture of her that summer on the boat and made a watercolor painting of it in my art class that fall.  In the painting, she sits on the plastic deck chair in the upper level, gazing across the turbid water at the shore.  The blue awning darkens her face and so she looks blue too, her white hair tinted with a cerulean dye.  I painted the picture because of her stillness, because it captured what I then thought of as her essence—her hands in her lap, her face turned.  Just watching.  Frowning slightly, as anyone does when it’s sunny in the summer, even when in shadow.  She would be moving to Utah soon, though I knew she didn’t want to—though I knew she hated the heat. 

I had read Virginia Woolf that year, and in the silent slide of wet bristles on paper, I sensed that my grandma had become Woolf’s “insignificant little moth.”  She too struggled “to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep.”  A hopeless struggle made gripping only because no one was watching—because it occurred in isolation.  Because, when she moved, she would place her quilts in boxes and tape them shut, and who would know when or where she opened them?  They were only crafts—products as overlooked as Woolf’s upside-down husk of a moth on the windowsill.  It was my pity and my frustration that I mixed into that blue wash and spread over the shadows of her shirt.  An awakening to imperfection.  How apt, I thought, for Woolf to call life “a pure bead.”

My art teacher hung the painting in the display case for three weeks.

When my grandma saw the finished watercolor, she thought she looked fat.  She was oblivious to all that it meant to me, of the summers it memorialized: our fingers touching fabric and ripping seams, our tongues licking the fraying tips of thread.  Summers when she’d serve tea in white mugs that we’d hold with lifted pinkies.  When we’d take evening drives on Highway 90, the road dipping down and sweeping along rounded masses of earth I had to crane my neck to see.  Those summers, before my grandpa decided his arthritis could no longer tolerate Minnesota winters, were “stack and slash” quilt classes at the local historical society, blue and green dresses flapping on country clotheslines, and the hiss of the iron on starched cotton.  They were miniature quiche on small cream plates and my grandma laughing with her quilting friends.  They were quilt shows and trips to the fabric store, bolts of every color in a line like paint-strokes.  In my journals from those years, I wrote of tradition and beauty.  I said I was content, my grandma standing behind me, patting my shoulder while I worked with her sewing machine.  As if I fulfilled something for her.  As if, with her, I was in some other world.

And at that time, during those earlier summers, I suppose I was.  But it was the passing of that world that I saw memorialized in the painting—a passing emphasized by the fact that my grandma could not see it.  She had moved to Utah, and I was soon starting college, packing three quilts along with my miniature refrigerator, my bundle of clothing, and my shower caddy.  When my grandma asked if I was going to bring the sewing machine, I said no, not at first.  I told her I wasn’t sure how busy I would be—if I would have time.  She understood and agreed.

Yet by that point, I was lying.  I was not worried about being busy.  I was worried about being seen.  I wanted my new roommate to think of me as a hiker, not a quilter.  There was a difference, I understood, between owning a quilt and making a quilt.  I did not want to be the girl with mousy hair who slouched in front of the sewing machine, squinting as she guided two triangles beneath the foot, her nose warmed by the machine’s small light bulb.  The girl who sat in her chair and sewed while others straightened their hair in the bathroom before strapping rollerblades to their feet.  No, I left the sewing machine at home, to accumulate dust.  And when I did bring a project to school—a queen-sized Prairie Queen quilt that needed its binding hand-stitched to the backing, or the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt later on, I hid it in a box in the closet, and only unearthed it when my roommates were gone and the door locked. 

 

My grandma began the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, with its tiny, toothed stitches, while living in England.  My grandpa had relocated to London a year before for his job with Honeywell, and in 1981, she followed him.  She lived in a house called Church Cottage in Old Windsor and went to jumble sales to stay busy.  She refused to drive in England because she was afraid of the turnpikes, but could not work because she didn’t have the proper visa.  At the jumble sales, she searched for old clothing that she thought might make a good quilt.  A woman’s indigo housedress, with small pink flowers.  A man’s plaid shirt.  A brown paisley apron.  Back at the house she and Grandpa rented, she washed the clothing and cut it into eight hundred and twenty-five three-inch hexagons.  She then began to hand-piece them into rings that resembled flowers.

I think of the quilt—of my grandma assembling a scrap quilt out of other people’s clothing.  Out of clothing she purchased at British rummage sales.  And I think of the fact that I could complete this quilt, could finish the tasks she has left undone and pick up the needle forgotten on the armrest.  I must only decide.

This is not a cherished gemstone or century-old locket.  What an odd sort of heirloom.

 

Another photograph: my grandma at her home in Dakota, Minnesota, leaning forward in a chair, her elbows resting on her knees.  Her eyes meet the lens of the camera, but she does not smile—as if I have caught her contemplating a burden and she has not yet had a chance to paste on a different expression.  The ceiling to floor curtains behind her are still with a leaden weight, with leaden folds.   On the wooden stand next to the chair there lies a basket of artificial flowers.

After I took the picture she asked why—why did I want the picture of her?    I said, because of the light.  The way the light through the window had turned her hair into a halo. 

Across the room, the camera warm in my hands, I relaxed into the textured cloth of the chair.

“Have you been quilting much?” my grandma asked, and I described the Bow Tie quilt.  I had just finished the top, and she was anxious to see it.  When she smiled, I noticed how thin her lips were.  Not thick like mine.

“How about you, Grandma?” I asked.  “How are your projects going?” 

She sighed and looked towards the window, where a neighbor’s drone lawnmower circulated the scent of cut grass.  “Oh, I haven’t done much lately.  Grandpa and I’ve been too busy packing.”  She dreaded the upcoming move to Utah—the condensing of possessions until everything could fit into a two-bedroom townhouse.  She leaned back in her chair and the skin on her cheekbones sagged.  In the recently vacuumed carpet, I saw our footprints leading to the chairs.  “Would you like some fabric?” she asked.  “I can’t bring it all.  There’s not enough room…”

Her eyes were wet, her lips pursed and her face red in spots, like it always was at the end of family visits, when she would tell us not to make the beds or do the dishes—she would need something to keep her occupied.

She was only giving me the fabric, I knew, because she was moving, and she did not want to move.

“Sure,” I quickly, self-consciously replied.  “I’ll take any fabric you don’t want.”

I imagined the bins that smelled like the air freshener she kept in the bathroom, the prints they contained, ironed and folded and sorted by color, labeled with the names of the quilt patterns she had intended to use.  Enough for four quilts.  Perhaps five or six.  I longed to lay them on the floor—to touch each one.

I imagined her face when she waved goodbye from the driveway.  The way we pretended not to notice her tears.

I imagined the emptiness of her closets in St. George. 

“Sure, I’ll take any fabric you don’t want.”  The words thick and vaguely sour, as if it was not an acceptance, but a taking, one that would desert her in a land where gusts of wind left grit in the mouth.

 

I blamed my grandpa for forcing her to move, and although I now realize that the situation was likely more complicated than that—marriages require compromises no teenager can understand—it affected the way I viewed quilting.  During those summers in Dakota, Grandpa had always been a shadowy figure.  He often attended archery tournaments with other retired seniors during the day, and he went to bed early.  I spoke to him only during dinner, when my grandma and I would move our quilting projects off of the dining room table so that we could sit and eat.  Grandma always started cooking around 4:30, and I often offered to help.  One day, she asked me to cook the bacon for BLT’s.  I had never cooked real bacon before, only imitation turkey, and I winced as the grease sizzled and spit, landing on my arm.  Once the translucent fat had solidified, I carried it to the table where my grandpa was already sitting, staring outside at the weathered fence and the wooded ravine behind it.  “Look Grandpa,” my grandma said.  “Jennie made the bacon all by herself!”  She squeezed my shoulder, and I distinctly recall the boniness of her fingers and the pride in her eyes.  I had made bacon.  Her granddaughter could quilt and make bacon.  My grandpa looked up from his seat and said something appropriate for the trivial accomplishment thrust into his gaze.  I held my tongue between my teeth and pretended to smile, though it disturbed me—the entire situation.  My summer suddenly tainted by a tightening fear that I was being domesticated, forced to fulfill a function I could only associate with the swipe of a damp rag on dishes and the echo of men in the living room.

All summer, I wanted to ask her why she was moving—why she agreed to go.  Couldn’t she stay in Minnesota and let Grandpa go by himself?  Couldn’t they become snowbirds, and at least return for long summers?  But I could not ask those questions.  Just as, today, I cannot admit that sometimes quilting embarrasses me.  Why voice such weaknesses?  My grandma will teach me how to hand-stitch binding.  She will send me quilt patterns she thinks I might like.  When I visit her, she will give me fabric.  But she will not ask my grandpa to do the laundry or put away the dishes.  At dinner, she will always serve him first.

            Such questioning, for her, is an extravagance.  Could a family of daughters taught to pack their husbands sandwiches for lunch, or at least microwavable pot pies, taught to serve a husband seconds even if they themselves have not yet tasted the roast pork—could such a generation engender an assertive granddaughter?  My grandma’s father died when she was young, forcing my grandma’s mother to provide a stable income.  When I ask my grandma about her childhood, she says, “I wish now that [my mother] had taught me more about hand quilting, but she worked all the time and just didn’t get around to it.”  I wonder if my life looks easy to my grandma—if it is easy.  I wonder if, in teaching me to quilt, she is trying to shape me into some 1950s mold.

Perhaps it isn’t that psychologically sly.  Perhaps, in her relationship with me, she simply sees herself fulfilling what her own grandmother wasn’t able to do—her own grandmother who died when my grandma was six, unable to teach her how to quilt, unable to pass on the Grandmother’s Flower Garden blocks that she had not yet finished.  When my grandma gives me fabric, she attempts to salvage a connection that should never have broken.  When she thinks of those Grandmother’s Flower Garden blocks her own grandmother once started, she only sighs.  Her sister has them—has kept them, though they are not yet complete. 

 

I was reading when my grandparents stopped by to drop off the fabric.  Spring.  A humid breath and the purr of the truck through the white-eyelets of the curtains. 

“Well, should we get them?” my grandpa asked in the foyer, where shadows flit against the pale walls. 

My grandma looked at him.  She held his gaze.  “I suppose.”

I was fifteen.  I slipped on my shoes to help unload the truck and suddenly doubted myself.  For, as we emptied the bed of its three blue tubs, my grandma refused to look at me.  Perhaps it was hesitation.  Perhaps regret.  But when my eyes met hers, she glanced away, and she did not smile.

The image unsettled me.  At college, I did not tell anyone that I quilted, but I often spent afternoons in the library, reading about the women of the 1970s who, bolstered by the bicentennial and the rebirth of the women’s liberation movement, revived the craft.  Some had never sewn before and signed up for community quilt classes.  Others learned from their mothers and grandmothers. The resurgence excited so many that the textile industry, for the first time since the invention of polyester, again began to produce large quantities of cotton fabric.  It was a time to claim pride in one’s heritage.  To participate in and celebrate a craft that had almost died out.  Some women preferred the traditional patterns of their grandmothers.  Others, especially artists who saw quilting as a means of feminist expression, sought to create a new art form.  By combining jarring colors and painstaking appliqué, they crafted wall hangings fit for contemporary art galleries.  For them, quilting became a political act, a statement of identity.  But what, I continued to wonder, from my small table in the library, did it mean for the others?

My grandma, then a mother of four, signed up for her first quilt class in the 1970s.  Twenty years later, she taught me to quilt.  I had gone to quilt guild meetings with her, and I had attended quilt shows with her, but still I could not answer that question for myself.  What did quilting mean to me?  Or, rather, what did it mean for me to quilt?  Neither a feminist activist nor a traditionalist, I struggled when comparing my image of myself as a quilter with the image that I perceived to be associated with quilting.  The question then became, what did it mean to quilt when 95% of the hobby’s participants were still female?

In my journals from that year I told myself that “eventually I will come to accept my place as a modern quilter.  Eventually, I will learn to share my interest in quilting with pride.”  But even today, such statements clang, metallic and hollow—I am still trying to persuade myself.

 

Summer 2005.  My grandparents drove me along the rural Utah highways, where all I could see was red dirt and the crushed rock that formed a dust I could not scrub from my feet.  I sucked on a mint, fighting carsickness, and felt invisible. 

I couldn’t imagine living there, in that land abandoned by two continental plates, and I wondered why my grandparents had moved so often.  None of my dad’s siblings were born in the same place, and each move continued to take my grandparents farther away from their living relatives—their living friends.  Why Utah? I asked myself.  All the plants died such dry and brittle deaths.  I swore that I would never live in place with so little green.

When my grandpa had a heart attack in the spring, my grandma had waited in the hospital thirty-two hours before calling any relatives.  Now she listened for his movements while we drank iced tea on the patio. The oleanders I had helped her plant bloomed their pink, orange, and  white petals.  I asked her which of the houses she’d lived in had been her favorite.  “An old colonial farmhouse in Ankeny, Iowa,” she told me. “We didn’t live there long though, only a year, but I still remember the woodwork.”  The house in St. George she didn’t care much for.  She told me that, if Grandpa died, she would return to Minnesota “in a heartbeat.”  She circled the rim of her glass with her finger, eyes focused somewhere beyond the brown haze of the horizon, before asking if I needed more tea.

That evening, we walked to the swimming pool.  My grandma sat in a chair in the shade with a book, a sun visor, and a bottle of water.  I unzipped my shorts and wished I had brought my other bathing suit—the one-piece I wore for gym—instead of this—a tankini with a rather pronounced v-neck.  Beads of sweat evaporated with a glitter from the crease near my elbow.  My arms swung, toned and solid, while my grandma’s pale flesh lay over the plastic armrest like a blanket.  I tread water for fifteen minutes and then did the backstroke.  My grandma looked up every once in a while to fan herself with the book, her smile bleached and translucent.  I wondered if I made her feel old.  If she comprehended the world I grew up in, with its cell phones and Starbucks coffee shops and colleges offering eighty different majors.  I spread out my arms and floated, letting the ripples from my backstroke lap at my skin, a cool tickle where water met air.

 

This past fall, at Barnes and Noble, I stopped in front of a book called Sarah’s Quilt and pointed towards it.

“Would you ever read that?” I asked Kevin, who knew I quilted, but had never asked about the process.

He glanced at the blue and red diamonds on the cover, muted and puckered in the leathery manner of all antique quilts.  “Probably not,” he said, to which I quickly asked why.

He shrugged.  “It’s just not my thing.”

I raised my eyebrows and crossed my arms.  “Why not?  Because it’s about quilting?”  His nonchalant dismissal annoyed me.  I clenched my teeth.

“It’s just not the kind of subject matter I’m interested in, that’s all.”

“What if I wrote a book about quilting?” I spit out. “Would you read that?” 

“Jennie, you’re not being fair.”

And I knew that.  I knew I wasn’t being fair.  I probably wouldn’t read Sarah’s Quilt either—I’d pass it off as some sentimental pioneer love story.  Women and their quilts.  Homemakers.  Too trite for me.  But I couldn’t help myself; I marched away from the book and didn’t say anything, even when he caught up and asked me to tell him about my hobby. 

            The next day, I returned to the library where I had researched quilting as a freshman, and I browsed the stacks.  In the books from the 1970s and 80s, women in jeans up to their chests stared at me through thick eyeglasses.  The pages were beginning to yellow.  The last stamp on the check-out slip was four years ago: me.

            To the left, the books from the 1940s contained text, a few line drawings of quilt patterns, and Marguerite Ickis’s assurance that “Almost every woman at one time or another has had the urge to quilt.”  Is that true?  I wondered.  Is that true?

            I was the only student in that section of the library.  I leaned against the bookshelves behind me and unzipped my coat.  The metal shelving jabbed at my back, but I did not move.  I read: “The housewife and mother, intent on the comfort and attractiveness of her home,” Ickis confided, peppy and confident, “could find no better way of achieving that aim than by making a quilt.” Quilting provided the perfect “’pick up’ work between household chores,” and even male family members could find “pleasure in making the quilting frame and its supporting stands, and in keeping them in top-notch condition […] As a means of enjoyable self-expression, providing practical results at the same time, [women] will find it second to none.”

            I set the book down—this image of who I was, of who I was meant to be.  I tried to dismiss the passage as a historical artifact, but I could not.  Did I not take pride in my stitches?  Was I not proud of the quilts in my bedroom, the quilts on my couch? 

            Marguerite Ickis, I knew, would be disappointed—I was not the twenty-first century girl she’d imagined I’d be.  In my half-hearted participation, my denial of the craft, I was deceptive, misleading.  I could not help but feel that I had betrayed these women. 

 

This summer, I visit my grandparents in Missouri, where they have since moved in search of a less expensive, less populated area.  The living room consists of the same wooden armchairs with blue floral cushions, the same cream couch, and the same watercolor of a British cottage as all the others did.  My grandma asks me how my quilt projects are going and I say good—good, I’ve been making progress.  But I haven’t.  If I really had finished all the Sunbonnet Sue blocks I tell her I have, the quilt would span a king-sized bed instead of a nine-square-foot patch of wall.

In fact, I haven’t used my sewing machine for two years.  I’ve been gone the past two summers, and then of course at college.  Upstairs in my bedroom at home everything keeps a dusty vigil—the watercolors on the wall, the quilt rack, the stack of books by my bed.  The few half burnt candles and the silver candle snuffer.  Tacked onto the bulletin board, three receipts that have yellowed and curled until I can no longer read the print. 

            But my grandma hasn’t been quilting much either these past few years.  Usually when I visit she has three new quilts draped over the quilt rack, but this year there is only one—a quilt with 24 different basket blocks, each overflowing with hand-appliquéd flowers.  My grandma sighs as she folds it, matching each of the corners precisely before hanging it back on the rack. 

            She just hasn’t felt like quilting, she tells me, and it seems even the thought of sewing exhausts her.  Too many unfinished projects.  She’s not motivated.  She hasn’t joined a quilting guild here in Missouri.  Doesn’t feel like it.  Doesn’t want more to do.  Clouds move over the sun and the light in the room weakens.

            She asks about the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, asks what I plan on doing with it.

            “I’ll finish it,” I tell her, “but then we’ll see.” 

            As we leave the room, my grandma presses her left hand to her lower back—the one new sign that she has aged.  I help her roll out manicotti in the kitchen and wonder why she mentioned the quilt—if she doubts I will finish it.  As if it will always remain in the back of somebody’s closet.  A burden.  An obligation.

 

 

When I imagine my grandma in England, hand-stitching the Flower Garden quilt, I envision her with firm arms and hair still naturally blonde.  Alone in the rented house, she sits in a chair and cuts a sleeve from a man’s plaid shirt, rips along the seam, lays it open.  The window is also open, and a few cars pass by.  Two children, perhaps, laugh in echoes as they ride their bicycles through the damp autumn air. 

She has already visited the Old Windsor library, red-brick building with its blue door, and it is too early yet to call her children in the United States, so she quilts.  She snips at strangers’ clothing and sews hexagons into flowers—the green plaid with a pale, blue center, the indigo housedress now surrounded by peach.  Perhaps the television is on.  Perhaps the radio.  Perhaps she has already had lunch and is now listening to “Woman’s Hour” on BBC Radio 4.  It begins to drizzle, so she turns on the lamp, continuing her small, endless stitches.

Now I imagine myself sitting in my own stuffed chair near the window, the quilt in my lap.  Is the door closed?  Probably.  But I, too, have left the window open.  I glance outside whenever I need to cut more thread.  I glance outside and suck on my finger.  It has turned red from the stitching—the tip slightly swollen and indented from the needle.  My stitches are not as small or precise as my grandma’s, but I have finished outlining one flower.  I have finished one flower and I am moving on to the next—moving the wooden hoop that keeps the fabric tight, shifting in my seat, taking a sip of iced tea.  Every once in a while, I rub my finger and hold it against the condensation on the glass.

 

A final photograph: a montage made my junior year of high school, after my last visit to Dakota, by superimposing a landscape over a self-portrait.  In the portrait, I sit in a chair in my bedroom, one arm resting across my lap, the other on the armrest.  I do not look at the camera but at my hand, which touches a red- and blue-squared quilt my grandma made.  Behind that, in the landscape, the bluff nearest my grandma’s house.  The image is faint, but it is there—a silhouette of trees across my chest, an outline of rock along the folds of the quilt.

It’s not that I don’t like quilting—because I do.  I love the slash of the rotary cutter through fabric and the sigh of threads severed by metal.  I love the way scraps form a frayed mound of color while stacks of burnt umber, deep blue, and watermelon green pile near the top of the table, orange reflecting flecks of gold in the flowers of a purple print.  Slowly, patterns emerge beneath the foot of the sewing machine, and as the needle glides through three layers of cotton, embarrassment, doubt, and confusion submit to the simple pull of string. 

The problem is: away from the machine and the thread and the fabric, I cannot separate quilting from everything it once was and continues to be—from Marguerite Ickis, from my grandma, and perhaps even from the insistent, but miniscule life force of Virginia Woolf’s moth.  And so they remain: three totes of fabric in my closet, still smelling of rosewater and the perfumed powder she has always kept in the bathroom; and, of course, also in the closet, the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt. 

I hold the fabric and touch the yellow backing.  My grandma put a part of herself in that quilt, even though she doesn’t like it now.  Even though she gave it to me.  She gave me her loneliness; I am naming it—recognizing it for what it is.  Some of the patches have stains and, in the twenty years since my grandma last worked on it, even the thread has turned grungy. But it is mine; in its tangible existence in the back of my closet, behind the hamper, a mass of cotton and polyester and garish colors asserts itself, refusing to be ignored.  What can I do but listen?  I am the receiver of things unfinished, the finisher of things received.

 

 

 Jennie Case is a creative writing graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  She has work forthcoming in Poetry East.