Stripes – Joyce Bethea McCulloch

Wide, narrow
Narrow, wide
It doesn’t matter

It doesn’t matter that the front
of the sweater will not match
the back when I sew
the two together.

I could count every row,
keep track of the number of rows per color,
make sure that everything matches.

I could make it perfect.
But I don’t.

Bright colors
Orange, yellow, pink
Blue. The colors of sunrise,

the orange, yellow, and pink
usher in the new day with the promise
of blue skies.

How do I choose these colors?
Colors evocative of optimism and faith
when I have neither.

The wool
Real. Natural.
Soft in my hands as I work

The lanolin merging with my body
oils, comforting my chapped and rough hands.
Hands that are red and cracked
from continuous washing

as I tried to keep the germs at bay.
The same hands that first touched my daughters
as I picked them up and held them
to my breast.

The same hands that were charged
with an unknown and unexpected energy
sparking up my arms to my heart,
to my blood, and pulsing throughout
my body as I embraced them.

The warm, all encompassing energy
was the purest, most complete love. Two
beautiful little girls. All I had ever wanted.

The needles
Should I choose metal?
No, not metal
Not with their jarring clank
as I try to work the rows.

A discordant sound
only adds to the dark
chaos of my world.

Not with their anesthetic
metallic smell, reminiscent
of hospitals, of blood.

Needles that penetrate
tender skin to deliver drugs
that don’t heal, drugs
that only weaken

the body, cause hair to fall out,
and blacken the eyes.
Needles that stab

me with excruciating guilt
for leaving my two-year old baby
at home. Two

beautiful little girls;
I give all l have to help
heal the older one while fearing
what my absence
will do to the younger.

The smell, the noise, the associations,
the guilt churns my stomach
as bile rises in my throat.

I choose bamboo
Natural. Fast growing.
Smooth but tough. Soft
to the touch and cool
in my rough and cracked hands

No, healing is not possible
Not through the darkness
Not through the writhing chaos

Movement is nearly impossible
Only my hands are capable
My mind can only retain the simple
repetition. Knit the odd rows,
purl the even. Again

And again. Knitting.The soft clack,
clack of bamboo.
The comforting richness
of the wool

Like praying the rosary
by rote without contemplating
or even understanding the words

A tangle of pink becomes a wide stripe
Followed by a bit of orange
Then yellow
The colors of sunrise?

Warm, bright, alive
Blue, the only color left
Not navy or indigo, but a fresh,
pure, radiant blue

The promise of blue skies?
My work grows
From that unrelated tangle
of colors to fabric

Stripes that march side by side,
complementing one another,
even though the back
will not match the front

Not perfect, but still,
stripes that form a cohesive whole


The fabric takes shape
A front, a back, and two sleeves
emerge. I sew everything

together. Of course the stripes don’t
meet on the side and the arms
are a crazy kaleidoscope of different
widths without any consideration
of what color goes where

It is not perfect
But it is whole
It is tangible, it fits its purpose.

A sweater for Caroline
The first winter it extends
below her knees with the sleeves
rolled up three or four times.

Much too big but wearable.
Warm. Soft. She wears it
seven more winters
until it barely covers

her rib cage, the sleeves end
at her elbows, and it is tight
against her developing chest
We still have it
Clean, carefully folded, and stored
on a top shelf, waiting

Waiting for another little girl
One happy, strong, and healthy
With a long, adventurous life
ahead of her

who will learn to be thankful
for the pink, orange, and yellow
of the sunrise and the promise
of blue skies

To be thankful for the tiny,
seemingly insignificant things
like soft wool, bright colors, and strong
smooth bamboo knitting needles;

the little things that can chase
away the darkness
Yes, waiting for another little girl
who will wear it again and again
Maybe even for eight more years

While her Mother lovingly remembers
The big sister who never got
To grow up