Threading The Needle


Mother’s sewing box

sat atop The Old Man’s chest

of drawers. It was made of cedar

covered with tin, painted gold,

the lid hinged. It held thread

and needles, stick pins and safety

pins, lace, yarn, razor blades and two

thimbles, a tape measure and

Sucrets tin filled with more pins

and a needle threader. 

There was a pair of scissors

and a Zip-Fix (the modern marvel

tool that fixed broken zippers

on the garment!) plus lots of

scraps of cloth, a bra strap

extension, a hand-me-down

pin cushion, basting tape,

and a hem ripper.


Of course there were buttons: all kinds,

shapes, and sizes, because at heart,

this box was mostly Mother’s

button-repair station. Granted,

she sewed on plenty of knee patches,

hemmed cuffs and dresses,

those dutiful extensions, but

she never claimed to be a seamstress

(though she darned a few hundred

wool socks in her time) mainly

she tried to keep buttonholes filled.


I don’t know why I was surprised

to find her inside the sewing box

(undisguised by the pungent odors

of wood and metal) but there she was,

pins between her lips and horn rims

perched on the end of her long,

German nose, digging for a bobbin,

some color that would match

the thread of her chore

paused under the pressure foot

of the old Singer machine

that vibrated the kitchen table

with every seam she’d treadle.


Her lines may not have been factory

straight, but nobody cared much

about appearances in a little iron-horse

town where the darkened bedrooms

reeked of cigarettes and whiskey

in the middle of the day,

and the church pews were filled

with women and kids.


I discovered it rummaging

through boxes of Mother’s stuff

I’d packed two years before,

after she’d died unexpectedly

at eighty-nine (hard for us to imagine

her not being around all the time).

I was looking for her recipes

and rolling pin when I found the gold

box and opened the lid, whiffed her

setting up the Singer and peering 

over her rims knowingly

as she asked me to sneak in her room

and grab the sewing box.


One always tip-toed, coming or going,

in the dragon’s lair where snorts

and snores sawed the thick, smoky,

booze-sweet air, shades pulled,

doors closed. That dragon breath

conjured monsters, battles,

fires forged in the gut—horrors

no one wanted to know. That smell—

vivid as Vitalis, moth balls, 

or fresh trout in a creel—taught me

how to navigate Hell.


But no outside fragrances ever

penetrated the sewing box.

It was as stable as the woman

who dug through it 

searching for thread and a button, 

just the right color and size . . .

stitching, patching, threading

the needle once again to secure

our cuffs and collars

against the cold and wind

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