Ode to My Shawl

                                          with a nod to Neruda

 My friend Libby knit me a shawl,
 It was still summer -
 We were standing in her garden -
 When she took me by surprise
 Handing it over
 Like a foundling delivered into my arms.
 I tossed it open, it floated
 Down around me 
 A cloak of fleece, a cloud
 Of breath and foam
 Animal heat. 
 “I made it out of plötulopi,” she said,
 “Unspun wool from a breed 
 of long-haired Icelandic sheep
 At least a thousand years old.”
 I once watched her pull a strand apart,
 Two wisps a Viking wife would bind with spit -
 “like knitting with air” -
 Two fleeces from the same sheep:
 Part thel, silk from the underbelly 
 Entwined with tog, the wiry outercoat, 
 One smooth, one hairy, like Isaac’s sons.
 “These are your colors,” Libby said. 
 At one end, an iron-black hoof 
 Clambering out of a cave, mounts 
 Through rust- brown fields
 Into mossy pasture 
 And on
 Up, ever higher
 Through mist, clouds, chalky cliffs, bubbling pools, mud-puddle lace, 
 Each band including and transcending the last,
 The green shot through with tan,
 The tan with grass, and so on
 Every first a last, every last a first,
 Knitting winter into summer
 Darkness into light
 A coincidence of opposites
 Without boundaries or borders
 Not One and Not Two Either
 The seamless whole that Bonaventure saw
 In the mind’s journey into God
 Ending on a snow-capped glacier. 
 Here is forgiveness
 Here is reconciliation
 Like those twin sheep-herding brothers in the movie Rams,*
 Kiddi and Gummi, their bushy beards identical,
 Their barns a mere hundred yards apart - 
 Who haven’t spoken to each other in forty years -
 Gummi, regularly rescuing Kiddi from his drunken stupors, 
 Himself gets lost in a snowbank where Kiddi finds him
 Out cold. Desperate to revive his brother, 
 Kiddi builds a cave of ice and snow, hauls Gummi 
 Inside. We see them, naked as newborns 
 In the final frame, 
 Thel and tog carded together 
 Wound once more in the womb of birth and death, 
 Kiddi, caressing and warming his long-lost brother,
 “Gummi, Gummi,” knitting hatred into love. 
 *Rams is a stunning 2015 Icelandic film about two warring sheepherding brothers which won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Watching it during the pandemic makes it read like an allegory. I have since learned that an Australian remake was released this October, but I’m attached to the austerity of the original. 

7 thoughts on “Ode to My Shawl

  1. What beautiful minds. What beautiful hearts. Yours and your friend’s. What beautiful things you both weave.



  2. Beautiful & insightful to bring a measure of pure pleasure to uplift these difficult times! Thank you . Caroline Coyner-Such(from a very long time ago in Kentucky)


  3. The poem is surprising and original, and yet by its ending, that ending seems strangely inevitable. I suspect that I’m not the only one who will feel something like this: It reminds me of my experience in being strictly confined to the house for months with a spouse who has been extraordinarily sweet, patient, courageous and loving, while disease, political dementia, and natural disasters rage all around us.


  4. Spot on, old friend. We might be back in Donald Hall’s Monday night poetry workshop with an astute comment like that coming from you. I’m having a strangely similar but inside-out reaction to a book of Haiga I’m contemplating. It’s all clean minimal stuff on the surface, but with a dragnet that takes you down into an abyss where you may find answers to the befuddling question of how to live in peace while disease, political dementia, and natural disasters are raging all around us.


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