Four-time Pushcart Prize nominee Jennifer Hambrick authored In the High Weeds, winner of the Stevens Manuscript Award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies; Joyride (Red Moon Press), winner of the Marianne Bluger Book Award from Haiku Canada; and Unscathed (NightBallet Press). She is featured in American Life in Poetry and her poems appear in The Columbia Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Santa Clara Review, The Main Street Rag, The San Pedro River Review, and elsewhere. Awards include: Sheila-Na-Gig Poetry Prize; Haiku Society of America Haibun Award; and Martin Lucas Haiku Award (U.K.). She lives in Columbus.
after a dress by an unknown maker and remade c. 1840 by Mary Slade Stevenson
When she’s 15, she walks down the aisle,
floorboards creaking as her Oxford bow pumps
carry her past pews packed with townsfolk sizing
up her propriety. The air hangs heavy with truth.
She is laced and cottoned, wildflowers flocked
into the muslin that cinches her waist to a prim
vanishing point. The dress is heaven hued before it
fades nearly white from wear to church and cotillions,
where whispers of dowry slip around the sidelines.
A few pennies each month, saved for two years,
buys the fabric. It’s been a while since she’s grown,
so her mother takes out the scissors and thread,
pumps the treadle, and sews her daughter’s future
on the bias. An oblong box sits today on a cabinet
full of folders stuffed with yellowed tax returns.
My grandmother makes the box from the cardboard
of a bolt of fabric, covers it with scraps of white
polyester with a windowpane pattern woven
into its warp. Pearl-tipped pins secure a corsage of red
satin roses and green velveteen leaves to the top,
and when it opens, I am 15 and wearing the dress
my mother made from that cloth and my date pins
the corsage over my left collar bone and his brown wool
jacket prickles strong against my fingertips in the cool
of autumn and the scent of aftershave that end a few
weeks later, after the homecoming dance leaves in a swirl
of its own stardust. My teenaged hands fumbled with
the lose threads of that frayed love, its thin scraps now
shaped by years and my much wiser foremothers who,
seamed into their own lives, saw my future open as a lid.
after Andrea Myers’ fabric sculpture Zig Zagged
Everything blows up in a cosmic second
and tears a life to rags and remnants,
leaving scraps of what had been a person
standing firm in the firmament floating
in a sea of chaos and confusion.
War widows bring their husbands’ suits
to my grandmother, who makes her pittance
trimming trousers into skirts, curving
boxy jackets to hourglass figures
new to punching timeclocks in a place
in every way so far from home. Bombs
and bloodshed blister the walls of domestic
tranquility, gouge out a no-woman’s-land
where every paycheck is a size too small
and hierarchy shears woman from onion skin
and pins her in place on futile fabric.
Wallflower, step forward and be
cut off at the knees, be hemmed in,
the mouth of your heart sewn shut
by surge after surge of holes punched
through the skin of your dignity. And all
the shreds of who you might have been
stitched together by mismatching thread
so taut it frays the mind to think about it.
The world is not round, it is angled.
It is not smooth, it elbows through air
and ether like fins slicing waves into sea
glass, wake healing only until the next seam
sears through. The world rewards those
tailored to its pattern, makes them light
their own orange flames that burn
then fade beyond the horizon line basted
in the space between what could be and what is.