Braid


Shoulders knobbed against
a slat-backed chair,
the temples tugged, a pull

at the nape, you felt the up-
sweep as she smoothed the fine
wisps back and tucked

yank into yank
and a third into that
until the consecutive

dodges of thumb and first
fingers gathered,
fraying and filing

to their end--ended
in an ornament that, suspended,
looked ridiculous, even

on a child who mostly
set forth with
what was called

a "finished" look, some
loose ends in order
where others were not

and a slight weight below
the nape's pull. The view
others had of it

was invisible to you.
It made something there
where there would have been

a blank--now instead
a kind of face
sent from woman to

woman like a duty,
an obstinate
duty to pattern.

It's too simple to see
one thing rather
than another, a wish

protruding once it's been
suppressed, a vise that holds
a thought in its proper

place until it bobs
to the surface
of a generally balmy

sea. Women and
woman only a letter
away--a strand gets

mixed, then mixed
right out of the heaven
of perfect fit;

one kind of accident
turns into another.
The whole head throbs for days.

Black and white are woven
into gray the way
hyperbole has no chance

once it's juxtaposed
to reason--negation
just a thread among

the available options
and hope itself apparent
there in the very

notion a made thing can last.
Tougher, coarser, split
weave in the years. Shorter,

longer, shorter, the brain
bound to its anchor.
The brushed-out waves

with their rick-rack
shadows, a thread
inside the case,

the case inside
the locket, the locket
beneath the yoke.

All the effort
to save in itself
a form of loss.

You can tell a story
many ways. You can leave
something out or put

something in; you can fool
yourself and hide.
You can shake out

the form or try
to manage every wisp,
but the latter will

only bring you pain.
You went under
the hand and eye of another

and the tether cannot
be undone.


- Susan Stewart