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KNITTING HEADS

I remember my father knitting heads.
Broad back pressed flat
against the rails of his chair,
he leans back,
one knee-bent, woolen-footed leg
braced against the window ledge.
Tension flows down
the sweather-thickened arm,
along the ladder of cotton twine,
to a nail anchored in the window sill. 

January thaw is come and gone
and frost thickens on the window panes.
Outside the yard is rusty iron.
A sea of wind tears at the seaweed
banked about the house,
as if to drive it back to the shore again.
A mile away the bay’s throat
is thick with ice
as the life beneath it crawls toward spring.

The fire in the woodstove hisses and pops,
and my father whistles
as he binds his twine wall row by row.
He works the polished wooden gauge
in and out and in again,
loops the boat-shaped needle
around and through, pulls taut:
each cotton knot rough
against the calloused ridges
of finger and thumb.
Come closer—
can you hear the needle faintly rasp
across the quivering twine?
Not too near the sawing elbow
or the quick, rough voice.
The sea teaches patience
slowly—if at all.

Out in the barn four hundred traps
are stacked in tiers a man-heave high:
alder bows bent nearly double
into sills, torn heads unmended.
Chinks of daylight shine like stars
in the dirty board-and-batten walls.
And all around them, dusty coils
of hemp, still salty to the taste,
sag from wharf-spikes, waiting.

The head is done.
My father cuts it free,
and slides it off the starter loop.
He stretches it for size;
a moment
the diamond mesh defines the air,
then joins the heap upon the floor.
The wind rattles the windowpanes,
but the winter sun is gaining strength.
My father begins to whistle again,
and knits.

—Edward MacDonald. The New Poets of Prince Edward Island. Ragweed Press, 1991. 

P.E.I. poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

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