instead i watched the minutes pass in silence
and took up my stitches to count the seconds
the dotted lines marching like soldiers into battle
i tried to make them straight but
i am a needle-wielding general with few convictions.
i watched the lines bloom under my fingertips
as my eyes ached and the night settled
on my shoulders
all i thought about was making my lines straight
and trying not to waver
needlepoint is like laying railroad tracks
sewing is making coherence out of broken pieces
making them whole
and it clears my head
better to think about stitches on fabric
than the stitches i have yet to give myself
to hold my guts inside my skin
i am a better seamstress than doctor
and i am hardly the best seamstress
my self-administered surgeries are pending
but my embroidery is alive.
i read about a surgeon who pulled out his own infected appendix
he was the only doctor around and
someone had to do it
i lack conviction
and my stitches waver
and my skin is burst in too many places to heal
and the infection lives everywhere
in the pit of my stomach
in the folds of my brain
in the curves of my heart
in the patterns of my veins
in my oft-bitten tongue
in my curling fists
that ache when i hold needles too long
but it's better to sew and purge a cluttered mind
than to go to bed with nightmares already in your head.
so, no, i did not go to sleep when i said i did
i stayed up too late with needle and thread
i squinted at roving dotted lines
and bled out into my lap.
* * *
May I meta-analyze my own poem for a minute here? I'm gonna do it anyway.
It's just that two different people in the last couple weeks have informed me they remember me reading this poem at a long-past open mic, and that's nuts to me. How do people remember one tiny poem from one tiny person (me) among lots of other talented people and their lovely work? I guess it means there's something good about it. So if you've heard me read this poem, now you get to read it yourself.
It's funny, too, because the poem's almost a lie. Not in terms of subject material; this is something that really did happen to me. It's one of the most boring backstories in the world, honestly. "How did you come up with the idea for a poem?" "I was sad and sewing late one night and I turned it into a poem." Voila. No, I mean that the title is "Coping" but it's not really about coping at all. It's about avoidance. I'm upset in this poem but I'm not addressing it - instead, I'm thinking about stitches and sadness but not doing anything to help my case. I'm just keeping myself awake and trying to process my feelings.
I don't know what happened in the days after the events I relate in this poem. I don't remember if I dealt with what was upsetting me or if I let it fall to the wayside. I remember what I was stitching: the line for the hem of a sleeve. It was a pajama shirt; I sewed it out of soft flannel. I've only worn it once since I made it.
(The story about the surgeon performing surgery on himself is true. He was Siberian. Shit gets real in the Soviet Union.)