Day 23: Words, Words, Words – “Pink Hollyhocks” (2004)

This post puts “beautiful” into a somewhat different – perhaps even atypical – context, especially compared to the posts that have preceded it. Diane Gilliam Fisher’s haunting “Pink Hollyhocks” (from her impressive 2004 collection Kettle Bottom) is beautiful not because of its subject (a sudden, violent, and unexpected death) but because of its natural, accessible language and powerful evocation of loss.

I turned the quilt over on the bed
when the neighbor women come in
to cover the mirrors and stop the clocks,

hang black crepe over the doorframe.

Onliest pretty thing I had, that quilt.

Not a old feedsack quilt, but a Wreath
of Hollyhocks, cut from Aunt Zelly’s
pattern and done up from a piece
of double-pink Mama brought me
from Kermit, soft Nile green for the leaves,
and new bleached muslin to put it on.
I quilted every inch, stitches no bigger
than a speck of meal. He wasn’t home,
night I finished. I put it on the bed,
took my clothes, and got under it.
When I heard him in the kitchen,
I called and told him it was done,
And you know what Mama says, Harlan,
you get a wish, first night under a new quilt.
It got real quiet, then here he come
running. I’d put out the light,
he knocked his shin on the cedar chest
trying to get to me on the bed.

I was fixing to fold it up, get it
out of my sight, when the siren blowed.
I didn’t go. I already knowed.
The quilt was ruint. Big oily smudges
and coal-black handprints where he hadn’t
finished washing up. I cried and carried on so
when I seen it that morning
he couldn’t look at me before he left,
it made him feel so dirty and bad.

I turned the quilt over on the bed
to keep them on me,
Harlan’s hands.

from Kettle Bottom, by Diane Gilliam Fisher

Read more about Diane Gilliam Fisher and her work at the Poetry Foundation website.

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