Even then that place was just scraps and remnants,
all that was left of the Jewish fabric trade, not far
from the river. It was the late 60s, pushcarts long
gone, though the people who once peddled fabric
there still had a foothold. Dusty fabric stores lined
both sides of the narrow street, stocked with cloth
of every shade and texture—silk unspooling into
sky-blue puddles on the floor, embroidered black
satin, velvet, darkness caught in its folds, ribbons,
trim. An ancient émigré sat behind the register,
gray as the dust that covered cards of buttons,
bolts of cloth, patterns, yards of bright ribbon
hanging on the wall behind him. One dim light
fixture barely illuminated the small space, though
the winter sun shone through the plate glass
window. I’d come there with my mother to
pick out fabric for a dress. We chose a glossy
purple velvet, tiny buttons for the sleeves and
down the front, the colors of hard candy, the
pattern and the thread. I was sure each item
had a history the shopkeeper could tell us
if we asked. When we got home, my mother
sat down at her Singer, worked the pedals
with her feet. I wore that dress for years.
Much later, when I was packing up the
house for sale, it still hung in my closet.
I took little from that time, no books or
clothes, wanting to put that past, the person
I had been, behind me. But I took the
matching scarf, its silver fringes showing
little wear. Since then, I’ve learned it’s
impossible to purge the past completely.
I hold on to its traces—wheel of bright
needles, spool of silk thread.
The word once meant “laid down” or “fixed.”
Stars like nail heads holding up the sky’s dark
drop cloth. Now we fancy, if we think of it at all,
the universe was broken, fell like shards of glass
after an accident. No one can agree on anything.
Truth’s a distant place we heard of in a fable.
Law might be better If it meant “a hill,” as it does
to certain rural Scots, a rise where sheep graze,
something they can see, can own or sell. Not
a map drawn by a blind man, meant to guide
us through a violent world.
Robbi Nester, a retired college educator, is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies. Her most recent book of poetry is Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She hosts two monthly readings on Zoom. Her poetry and reviews have appeared widely, most recently and forthcoming in One Art, The Journal of Radical Wonder, Verse-Virtual, Sheila Na Gig, and more. You can learn more about her at https://www.robbinester.net.