Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘Cross Stitch,’ by Angela Narciso Torres

It’s September now, but “the light of October” will be what we’re seeing when you read this. Every month does have its own light, doesn’t it? October’s is especially mellow, fat, and opaque like tallow, a quality evoked precisely by these images:

She remembers: the light of October,
how it lengthened on the starched square
that rested on her taut belly. A half pear
on the windowsill. The near-ripeness of waiting.

It was when I read the line opening stanza 3, “She fingers the strands of color,” that it all came back, glossy skeins of thread that felt silky (maybe because they were silk back then) as fantastically hued hair, and how imagining them on the template felt like beginning a painting—or a poem. I’ve already noted some similarities between making a poem and doing a cross-stitch project, and it’s as easy to imagine the speaker getting back to a long-abandoned writing project as to one involving needles, thread, and the half-blank page of “cream-white fabric.” This may be one reason the author spelled cross stitch without a hyphen, making “stitch” its own word and one that evokes “stich,” meaning a line or verse of poetry.

But, staying for the moment within the context of embroidery work, Torres evokes the richness of the thread’s colors in this way: “gold leaf, sage, wine, cerise.” Imagine how less interesting that line would be if she’d chosen “gold, green, purple, red” to describe these colors instead! But what’s best is where the poem goes from there, making and then rejecting embroidery work as analogous to making and raising a child.

Let’s look more closely at how the words “As though” function in line 21. Similes are figures of speech falling short of metaphor; instead of equating one thing (the “tenor,” here raising a child) with another (the “vehicle,” here doing cross stitch), they compare the two things, typically keeping distance between them by means of the words “as” or “like.” To see what I mean, think about the difference between Robert Burns’s simile, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose” and the metaphoric equation of “my love is a red rose.” In this case, Torres uses the phrase “as though”—the same as saying “as if”—and thus invokes and rejects the simile or comparison in the same breath: “As though the stitches / Might hold the shape of her newborn.”

What’s really interesting to me is what Torres does next in order to end the poem. After rejecting the notion that raising children can be planned out and executed like a cross-stitch sampler, the poem proceeds to end in full metaphor employing the cross-stitch image, the speaker seeing an X shape in the closing figure of a boy “who reaches now, squinting in the outfield, / arms outstretched to the endless blue.” In metaphors the conflict between tenor and vehicle is unbuffered, and one often senses a yearning for total merger. The metaphor that closes today’s poem speaks to me deeply of such yearning, every parent’s futile longing to “hold the shape of” their children at each tender age and to determine—at the very least by keeping them safe—the shape of their lives.

 

 

Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at www.press53.com. For more information visit rebeccafoust.com.

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