it reminds me of Imelda
the beloved elder who
held my pudgy mitts
to needles and to yarn
to show me how
before I knew what for

it moves in steady rhythm
creates loops and knots
that hold together
do not brag but build
a keepsake and by touch
may tell sometimes of love

it is a zen
for western minds
old fuddy fashioned
an annoyance and
to a world all thumbs

its text
the texture of a fabric
danced not twiddled
coaxed into patterns
of a mathematics
music understands

it is an ethic and
a discipline made
from the sun
the clouds
the grazing sheep
in fields below

gathered and woven
strand to strand
as they become
a cap or muffler
mittens made to warm
a pair of human hands



100 responses »

      • It’s not a cigar either?

        In a delusion I thought it was Maurice (RAVEL)RY’s famous textured dance…

        And cigar was my second delusional guess.

        • Your perspicaciousness seems to know no limits….I didn’t even recognize the Ravel reference myself. As I believe you said, somewhere else, the writer is not the best commenter on his/her own work. My mind went to revelry–rivalry–ravelry. But perhaps I am in some kind of denial about Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”….it drives me clean nuts!

          I’m glad to know (humor the poor poet) that cigar was also in the delusional mix.

          • I thought of Ravel as well but not the Bolero – his “Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet” – about which (when teaching it) a student talked during the pianissimo bit and I said rather loudly, “You’ve stuffed the moment, you idiot”. The piece could never be played again without the entire class calling out at that bit, “You’ve stuffed the moment, you idiot!”

          • I am gratified to have been close, but my natural tendency to gravitate toward French impressionism has hindered me again. What do I know of crochet or yarns (as in incredible tales)? Of course I am fully conversant in papal matters and this will be my saving grace.

            • Though I must protest your modesty about yarns (you are a master at them) and we will further discuss papal matters vis Γ  vis Ariel on your blog, it’s more important I should admit you are completely vindicated in your claim that this is a bolero. See comment by Rob McShane below.

              • The ostinato rhythm of one man’s bolero is the patter of another man’s knitting needles.

                (I once read that in a fortune cookie while dining at the Zen Buffet and Emporium.)

                (Of course one can also knit a bolero, making for a tantalizing double meaning, the kind I’m so fond of using when crafting yarns.)

                • The English language has a bad habit of having the same word mean three or four different things at once. The poet, however, does a happy dance. The prosaically insane also maintain that this muddle is a gift. And so, 99% of English speakers must suffer. And they say there is no poetic justice!

                  Again, we seem to have drifted from a simple bolero worn on the shoulders only to touch upon the intricacies of the papacy, and have arrived, quite logically, at poetic justice. And we haven’t even begun to discuss music in a meaningful way!

    • Knitting is such an ordinary practice, and yet….and yet…I just recently read a serious book about the history of knitting in my country, including how important it was during war time and how even the men were knitting socks for soldiers! Like any craft, it can be taken to reaches of creativity and beauty well beyond the practical. I use it as a meditative practice, and to make things for charitable donation. Thank you for your visit and comment, Sylvie!

    • Sometimes my intention is more unconscious than conscious but yes, I do know the journey from awkward beginnings to more and more mastery, where one can go with the flow of intimate engagement with the idea and the materials, and enter into something like a zen state. Thank you so much for dropping by to read and comment!

  1. Hi Cynthia ,a unique lesson how and what happens when someone wants to fashion a pair of mittens for human hands,,also a lesson to understand the trials we confront in life between now and then.. Regards.Jalal

  2. Great poem. I liked the way that each verse, except the last, starts with it to remind us of the click of the needles. I used the knit before arthritis set in and sometimes wonder, even now, whether it was more for the pleasure of the needles and wool or for what was ultimately created. My youngest daughter crochets – which creates astonishing patterns without the click of needles. I like the way that you remembered the sheep as usual this is some great writing.

    • I know what you mean about the pleasure of the work—needles and wool–versus the final product. I think I would vote for the process as being the best part..especially if the pattern is easy enough to induce that “zen” state, and the materials are natural. A few years ago I discovered a local farm that raises alpacas as well as sheep and they dye and spin their own yarn—gorgeous colors and the feel of alpaca is incomparable. The only problem is that it’s not practical to make things for fast moving families with children where “hand wash and dry flat” is pretty much precluded! I find crochet a lot easier and fast moving, but for some strange reason still prefer knitting….especially in the round, with four needles! Thank you for your kind words, as always, Jane.

  3. This is my favourite bit
    “it is an ethic and
    a discipline made
    from the sun
    the clouds
    the grazing sheep
    in fields below”
    because it sounds like the ethic and discipline is the sun, clouds, and knitter all balled together. Of course, I love the whole poem because it is about knitting and thinking and rhythm and patterns and life and love and craft….

    • And this from the woman who vowed never again to knit a pair of socks! But I’m with you, on keeping it simple….a shawl in straight garter stitch can do a world of good for the tired mind. I’m remembering that wonderful piece you wrote about such things….it was the first I read of your work (on your previous blog) and such a fine testimony to your writing talent, as well as the handicraft….

  4. Your poem perfectly captures my new (2 year old) love affair with knitting. To people close to me who are in awe that I have fallen for knitting because as a general rule I abhor anything repetitive or rote, I have often explained that knitting feels like meditation for me. Your poem puts that emotion into words beautifully. On another, synchronistic note, I got a laugh out of the fact that I had just gotten off the ravelry.com site just before I found your poem in my inbox. It’s not often you get a ravelry reference from two sources inside a minute. I love how the universe works. πŸ™‚

    • So nice to have you stop by here, Ande. I love it when that synchronicity happens. I checked-out the ravelry.com site and was gratified to see how young people are taking up the craft of knitting, it seems, like never before. I’ve learned there is a plethora of blogs about it and all the fiber arts, and a a whole national network of “Stitch’n’Bitch” clubs that meet regularly to work on their crocheting and knitting, swap tips, and generally…..well, you know,”discuss” national and local news. So now, it seems, it’s not just for house-bound old grandmothers, but a real recreation and creative outlet for the not-so-old as well. I’m happy you’ve discovered the craft and wish you continued years of the satisfaction I know it can bring. And thank you for your lovely comment! πŸ™‚

  5. Cynthia, I can always count on your poetry to delight me. As a fellow knitter since childhood (it was my gramma who taught me) I can feel the needles in my hands and the yarn moving through my fingers and the texture of the random thoughts passing through my head with the repetitious movements. You invoked it all – I love this one!

    • It was my grandmother,too, who taught me…knitting, hand sewing, little tricks about cooking and baking. She spent summers at a lake cabin and there was plenty of time in the long lazy days to learn these things….(a phone party-line for the entire lake, so my gramma used to eavesdrop on conversations…her only sin, ever!) Thank you for your kind words, Betty. Somehow I figured you were a fellow raveler!

      • Sounds like my own grandmother, Cynthia. And I do remember those party lines! You could always hear a 3rd party breathing – listening – to our conversations. So funny now! And yes, a fellow raveler indeed. I have a couple of knitting poems in the archives here. One titled “Yarn”, the other ” a tale of two needles”. πŸ˜‰

        • I think my grandmother forgot she was eavesdropping once, listening to two women exchanging recipes, and blurted out “What was that, after the baking soda?”

          I just went to your site and read your two poems. They’re great! “Yarn” reminds me, knit-purl, knit-purl of the weird need that comes over one, to knit something for a beloved. And the “tale of two needles” (with apologies to Charles Dickens) is spot on, with Madame DeFarge (and ourselves, sometimes) not so much seeing as creating reality with the click, click of her needles. Thank you so much!

          • That’s hilarious that your grandmother joined in their conversation! A wonderful anecdote. I think i would’ve liked your her.
            And thank you for visiting those two poems and your kind words about them. πŸ™‚ You’re right about the need to knit things for loved ones. There’s a special satisfaction – metaphorical hugs, perhaps.

  6. I wanted to say ‘the mundane made magical’ but knitting has always so intrigued me that I could never call it ‘mundane’ – your poem, however, makes it magical!
    I will go with Prospero and the Bolero, however. A slow start while all the first ‘bits’ and needles are joined ‘to show me how before I knew what for’ ; to the slightly faster and louder ‘steady rhythm’ and pace, as the artist finds the groove (you’re dancing in your fourth stanza!) ; to the crescendo, fortissimo and ringing speed of the final ‘clackety clacks’ to complete the ‘cap, muffler, mittens,’ – the final product! And the last ‘clack’ fades as you lean over, place your needles in their bag, straighten, stretch your artwork and breathe with the ‘sun… clouds… sheep… fields’
    See… The bolero! ‘the mathematics’ that ‘music understands’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!) πŸ™‚
    Such a lovely poem Cynthia, thanks! πŸ™‚

    • I don’t think I’ve ever known such a fantastic riff on a poem of mine, Rob—it is a poem in itself! I imagine that the building of a composition operates on a subconscious level, even as we think we know what we’re doing when we write it. Sometimes I am well aware of the “music” when I write, especially in using traditional forms, but I wasn’t thinking that way in this poem. Now you, and Bruce, and Prospero have convinced me…Bolero it is! Thanks a whole bunch! πŸ™‚

      • Ah! Therein lies your brilliance Cynthia. So much experience, tucked away in subconscious recesses, that comes out to play so eloquently when ‘tickled’ by some trigger and touches so many folks in so many different ways! Such a joy to read!
        Thank you for your comment, yet, more importantly, for sharing from those recesses! πŸ™‚
        Crikey! On reading this, I feel much subconscious quivering and slamming of recessed doors – run for the hills! Maybe it’s time for me to see a therapist! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  7. The arts of long ago are still practised and I appreciate the fact that you admire the complexity/ mathematics involved. I do hope this activity won’t be a lost art within the next generation.
    Your words capture the activity so well Cynthia, brava!

      • It’s quite a phenomenon, isn’t it? Here in the US there is a proliferation of “Stitch and Bitch” groups…I never joined one, because I am too old, and probably would feel out of place among all those twenty-and-thirty somethings!

    • Thanks Barbara! Knitting can move from craft into art, sometimes. When I was on the faculty of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, there were students in textiles who designed knitted pieces that were not at all for practical use and were hung in one of the galleries like tapestry! Don’t worry about it’s becoming a lost art, though; the next generation is pretty keen on it!

      • That is so good to hear. I just notice my daughters don’t like looking after knitted garments as I would…but may be they are in a minority group.

        • Well, caring for a garment of natural fibers like wool, or alpaca, takes more devotion than simply tossing into an automatic washer/dryer, so for that part, Barbara, I don’t think your daughters are in the minority at all! Especially for babies’ clothing, it’s important to have yarn that is synthetically made to be able to sustain a lot of speedy washing and drying. But with the upsurge in knitting interest, there are some new fibers on the market, now, which can do that and are quite soft and lovely. Then we who love the artisanal wool can treat ourselves to it when we have the leisure for its design and care!

  8. “it is a zen for western minds” – the therapy of repetitive movement in craft – yes :).

    I love the image of a pulling together for a greater good in “creates loops and knots that hold together do not brag”.

    • I think “doing something” a bit active as meditation works better for some of us, than passively sitting, absolutely still, and trying to think of nothing…It’s the rhythmic repetitiveness that does the trick, as you say. I once knew someone who used horseback riding that way! Thanks, bb.

  9. Once again Cynthia you have created a masterpiece from out of something ordinary, and I am still in awe of how you do this. I think you would be able to write a cracking poem on any subject you were given.

    This conjured up a picture in my mind of a group of women in the WI huddled round a table knitting furiously, warm clothing for the men at war, simultaneously discussing the setting qualities of the last batch of jam 😊

    I’ve often wondered what it would be like in the WI. I expect during the war it saved the sanity of some women.

    I’m wandering way beyond your poem now but there is a wonderful drama here called Housewife 49 starting Victoria Wood set in The Second World War, well worth watching.

    I could never master crochet but I have knit all manner of things including a family of ducks with hats! I miss its meditative qualities now I only have one working hand. I now try to knit with words I suppose but Im always dropping stitches and sometimesI can’t even cast on. But you never drop a stitch even in the most complex of patterns x 😊

    • A family of ducks with hats! You’ve reminded me of a time when I was knitting little bears for a group called “Mama Bear” that was sending the knitted bears to orphans in Africa…And your mention of the women gathering to knit in the war years brings up the fact that the young women now are doing the same thing all over the place in this country, only now they call it “Stitch and Bitch”!

      About making poems out of something ordinary…thank you for what you say. I consider it a most high compliment and am touched. But you do it, too, finding all those moments in the contemplation of your grandchildren, for example. “Excitement” has been highly over-rated I am finding, on my good days as one consigned to the ordinary without ever having been asked for my consent. πŸ™‚ And if we drop a few stitches here and there, Chris, what the hay, it’s today!

      • Haha! “Stitch and Bitch”! Love it!

        And thank you for what you said about my poems; I am very self deprecating. But it’s the construction of yours that is so skilful and it seems to come so naturally as every single thing I have read of yours just oozes excellence. I just write and hope for the best! 😊

        But the main thing I guess, is that I enjoy wriring, however many dropped stitches there are. I still have a tiny scarf in a drawer that our youngest knitted when she was learning at around age eight. It was for her teddy and I remember telling her how wonderful it was all in different colours, and it was! Teddy looked amazing in it and wore it with pride. She is 28 now and I showed it to her recently and she howled with laughter. She cast on around forty stitches and when she finished it, it had no more than five! Hilarious! I still treasure it 😊 x

  10. A few weeks ago, I sat down to knit a beanie for a friend’s little boy and it was only then that I realised how much I had missed it. Used to knit for the boys all the time when they were small. Hopefully it won’t be another 10 years before I pick up the needles again.

    • Glad to hear you rediscovered it, H. It could just prove to be an anchoring thread that loops together the great variety of your talents and doings….an endless shawl of spontaneous stitches in ever -changing patterns that you pick up and knit whenever the MoSy mood hits.

  11. from another conversation…

    I could follow Brando’s lead and decline to accept the coveted ‘Cynthia CIG-AR’ award, or in the spirit of internet bonhomie, share the award with Bruce and Rob, since both seem to revel in Ravel. I think I’ll share (unless the darn thing is made of solid gold–in which case I will recant all).

    • I am not surprised at your generosity, Prospero. But the expression “close, but no cigar” was probably about a not too exotic cigar given away at 19th century carnivals for hitting things with great force or acumen. To split it three ways would harm the smoke-ability of the cigar, yet a third of a cheap cigar is just as good symbolically as a whole one, since I imagine none of you would smoke it anyway–for which I am grateful. Bonhomie, it is……and especially so, since Bruce’s surname is Goodman!

      • First there was talk of generosity, then of magnanimity, and Prospero, having sought legal advice, decided to pledge his share of the prestigious award to his esteemed colleagues.

        • I joyously accept the one third of a cigar, and having done so wish to announce that I no longer am of a mind to consider it a Bolero, but more of a Tarantella – the clicking of needles creating a spider web of a dance. Sort of a la Hilaire Belloc:
          And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
          Of the clap
          Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
          Of the girl gone chancing,
          Backing and advancing,
          Snapping of a clapper to the spin
          Out and in —
          And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.
          (That sounds like knitting to me!)

    • It’s always a delight—to me, anyway—to know someone finds a thing worth re-reading. There’s so much to be read, these days, who can keep up? On the subject of re-reading: I’ve discovered that with age re-reading one’s favorite works becomes almost more fun than starting new ones. Go figure. Thanks, Lisa

  12. Evocative and thought-provoking as always… I thought of my grandma, naturally, who would knit endless jumpers and foist them on ungrateful family members (but they were good jumpers, really). Anyway, I like how you take us back to the source of the wool, those sheep eating grass under the sun – and rain of course, mustn’t forget the rain. It brought me back another memory of my dear grandma. On the day of my graduation, my dad drove the whole clan over the pennines – the ‘scenic route’ if you like barren rainswept moors and ancient collapsing drystone walls (I do). For a long while nobody in the car spoke, and I thought they were all – like me – mesmerised by the scenery. Then my grandma spoke up – “Look at those sheep, standing around all day just eating and pooing.” It all goes to show – I don’t know what! Anyway, I enjoyed the poem!

    • Something takes over the mind of a knitter, sometimes, which is a desire to express oneself by imposing one’s creations on others as a token of love. The fact that the created product happens to be something useful only exacerbates the problem….it seems to be a madness pervasive among knitters.

      I like your grandmother. She knew what’s what. On the other hand, what would you expect sheep to do…knit?

      • I’m not sure where she was coming from with that. She hated idleness and dirt in all its forms, but I don’t think she really held it against the sheep. It was just an observation, I think.

  13. That feeling that you convey so well about the quiet, steady rhythm, and the purposefulness of knitting took me to my own childhood. My mother sewed and knitted all our clothes, and taught me too. I had knitted skirts to complex patterns. Later, at boarding school, our Quaker headmistress was a great supporter of Pestalozzi villages. She had us all knitting blanket squares from odd skeins of wool in any spare moment (and under the desk during lessons). Every child could do something that made them feel good and had an impressive end result. We turned out many blankets.

    • So you must be a very accomplished knitter, Hilary I love the part about “under the desk during lessons.”
      And thank you for reminding me of Pestalozzi! I haven’t thought of him since my graduate school days when I was completely taken with his romantic ideas about childhood education. I read and wrote extensively about him…”.head, heart, and hand”…. in work for Art Education classes. He was a hero to me, of sorts, and he and Froebel provided much of what passed for my theory of education at the time. But then, as it turned out, I didn’t teach the very young and the issues raised when dealing with adolescents and adults (more of un-learning than learning) were a different kind of romanticism. Knitting had very little place in that!

  14. Wow Cynthia – this is one lively discussion. My humble two cents – you blow me away taking an ordinary task or hobby or necessary activity and turn it into an imagery of a magical experience of yarn and moving the needles. I can see the pace, hear the ever increasing flow and rhythm as focus and concentration turns to other thoughts as the experienced knows where they are going. A wonderful poem that I’m glad to read this fine Sunday morning – have a beautiful week ahead!

    • Ayuh, Mary…sometimes the discussion is like a bucking bronco show at the rodeo! πŸ™‚ But your so-called two cents will always be precious to me, and worth a lot more than two cents. Maine has had a good summer, so far—warm days, cool nights; good for the tourists who want to hang out at the beach, and for we who want to work by day and sleep at night. Lots of really good lobster rolls to be had! Hope things are progressing as you would wish, and a beautiful week to you too! Thank you for your comment about the poem; I know you know what craft is all about.

      • How I would love a good lobster roll, up in Acadia or down in Biddeford Pool down the coast – just the scent of the sea and sight of the coast is all I need. We were thinking of flying into Maine for (clam chowder at Harrasekette Lunch in Freeport) a few days, but the thought of all the tourists kind of dashed the idea for the middle of July and August. We’ll see ~ in the meantime I’ll make a lobster roll or two from lobsters I can get here at the local grocery stores (when they are on sale of course). Enjoy the warm temperatures, wonderful considering what you went through this past winter – this is our first week of hitting 100 and they’ll stay for a while. Best to you this week my friend.

    • Hi Frank….Would you believe, I did read the variety of endings to your story this week. I haven’t had a chance to scroll down all of the incidental chat to put in my two cents and it wouldn’t have added much to the discussion anyway.. I liked Craig’s ending a lot and my favorite was that of Archon’s Den. I’m not much for steamy stories—or for pop fiction in general— so those two endings were more my cup of tea. It looks like you had a lot of fun with that fiction challenge, and it brought a vivd response from your regular community. Cheers to you for that! πŸ™‚

      • Glad you read it. So many twists on relationships, but Craig’s & Archon’s were way out of that box … which is why they were so good. Archon’s dream just cracked me up. Thanks for the thoughts.

    • I usually try to read my poems as they sound to me in my head, which is usually pretty casual and conversational in tone. I think it’s good to read in a serious manner, but not to take oneself so seriously as a poet that one tries to sound important or theatrically impressive.

        • I am always hesitant to add either photos or music with poems, regarding them as crutches though I realize they can be an enhancement for many people. There’s so much music (noise) and so many photos in our environment just now, and maybe people don’t know how to do the imaginative listening and seeing that is required in attending to poetic language anymore. I’m just an old holdout and don’t want those distractions from the actual beauty of language itself. I’m probably in the minority on this score. I don’t mind others’ using those enhancements, but I don’t do it myself. πŸ™‚

            • But words are also images, or at least they create images in the mind (image-ination) that are fluid and allow co-creation by the reader with the writer….something a stopped abstract like a photo precludes. You don’t get to imagine so much, because the picture is already given to you.

              And of course, words are also sounds, even if you read them silently; though, like a lot of what passes for music these days, they are not always music.

              • Agreed. You are absolutely correct. It is only in the last ten months, here on WordPress that I have chosen to employ photos. And have found inspiration in images that I see on other blogger’s sites. In fact tomorrow’s poem was completely inspired by the artwork posted by another creative mind. So images can be seen as a crutch or a catapult.

                • Call me unadventurous but I prefer not to be catapulted…

                  I have been reading your work, and enjoying the way you use your imagery. It is not a literal use, but a metaphorical one, used to speak of one thing through another, and very well done. (“Ceci nest pas un pipe..” and all that)….in which case it is neither a crutch nor, necessarily, a catapult!

  15. Simply beautiful Cynthia! Not only could I hear the needles clicking but could feel the yarn as it journeyed through my hands beyond the needle points becoming something else.

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