Rug Poetry and the Craft Tradition

I’m a writer. This means that I have a degree in creative writing and that I hold non-writerly jobs so I can have enough money at the end of the month to send my work out to literary magazines, which mostly reject it.

Earlier this year, one of my poems was accepted by Magnolia Journal, a print anthology of socially engaged women’s writing. The poem is about buying a handmade rug in Morocco on a trip I took fifteen years ago.

The rug is its own miracle. It’s next to my bed, which is too high to sit on comfortably, so I sit on the rug to put on my shoes and socks, lingering amid thoughts of God, of the distance a rug must travel, of the endurance of art—all commonplace mysteries.

I think I wrote the poem because the rug seller spoke to me in poetry. His description was accurate. He couldn’t very well lie, after all, with my sister and other members of our tour party standing around as he showed it to me, but he could have spoken in geometric shapes or traditional techniques. Instead, he spoke like someone who was still awed by the magic of turning separate strands into a whole.

At that time, I understood that awe second hand, marveling in my mother’s yarn craft, but five years later, when I came back to knitting myself, I understood it in a very different way, in the unexpected bafflement that comes when a completed project goes onto its hanger or into its drawer, so different from the loose skeins of leftover yarn rolling around in their plastic bag that they seem alien from the piece and from the hours spent making it, or the odd disorientation that happens when I suddenly realize I’m using something I made and wonder how I worked this or that detail out.

Then I started to think about all the women who had touched my rug, the ones who had dressed the loom with cotton yarn, only a little thicker than the yarn I use for dishcloths, the ones who drew the design, the ones who dyed the wool, the ones who wound the different colors onto bobbins and worked the different sections of the pattern, the ones who cut the finished rug off the loom, and the ones who tied the overhand knots at the ends to keep the rug from raveling.

Once I started thinking about them, I couldn’t stop. I would think about them as I sat on the rug, running my fingers over the pile, which felt surprisingly ordinary, like machine-made indoor-outdoor mats. I would imagine their conversations—the kids, the husband, the neighbor with the evil tongue–when I rolled the rug up on the bed to sweep and mop underneath. I would wonder who was smug about her housekeeping, who wanted to highlight her hair, who dreamed about being elsewhere as I touched the back, which has the same pattern as the front, but the texture of stretched canvass.

And I would think about them and about my mother, an executive secretary and later field hand, who sews, knits, and crochets every now and then to make her home beautiful; about my sister, a trauma nurse, who had no interest in crafts until she bought a sewing machine at the age of forty, about myself, a social service interpreter who made socks in psychiatric wards while other people fell apart. I thought of all of us, the women I knew and the ones I only pretended to know, as I knit, as I turned yarn into something other, something both ordinary and remarkable that other women know about and other men and women can overlook, until they suddenly can’t.

To read a blog post about the journal and to listen to the poem click here. The sound file, which includes both my poem and a lovely essay by another writer, starts as soon as the page loads. The sound may be low, so it may be necessary to turn up the volume. The poem is called “Having Been to Morocco.”

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. crystal
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 21:08:29

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.


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