Cross Stitch Primer —Laura Da'
A as ox—beast of burden dominating cool earth on sound hooves and clean-boned forelegs. When the letters come to me like alchemy, A is the beast that eats from my open palm with a velvet muzzle. B is the house itself, not stick-build but flesh. Pregnant B, the woman with a belly and swollen face like a lopsided chain-link. C carries water in its curves. Plunge a hand into desert sand and grasp the C that was pictograph for camel until time stripped it to essence. Slow curve of C on creamy linen press makes me weak with desire, an ache in wrist and canines no wet swallow can soothe.
D is a soft threshold; crinkled sigh of the opened door’s invitation and supplication. E is the eye and it holds the burden of beholding. Imposing the letter E summons a best friend from childhood. He was always getting scolded for turning in papers without his name written on the line, so I was always swooping in behind him correcting in careful lettering. Uppercase E, I would write and it was for the big eye of love.
F is the hitch sneaking out to rend—a whisper of nail sunk into wall. Flee murmurs F into curved ear. The shadows of two long fingers and a thumb leave their warped blue F on my upper arm. Straight and curved brackets burdening a first-born girl: G as soft gasp of a waterlogged door shutting behind; H as clean-hewn fence. At eight I learned how to open and close a fence from horseback and since then the sound of a penciled H holds the aural satisfaction of the hiss of draped chain and spin of a lock shut firmly after the last weary chore. I is the body dead tired. I, my body stretched, wondering if it lies down in bed or grave.
J and K are the hand and palm. My elegant hand was born from studying a long, lean J on the page of an old hymnal with avid intent. Rare as it is for a hand to deny my needs or a palm to lash out at me, L is still the hidden cudgel I imagine wielding in defense. L stands unimpeachable; an upright woman may with long-sword hidden in the grass at my feet. If I sign off on a letter with nothing but L, my blade is yours.
M is the water and the N the fish—salty letters of home. Salmon flash pink and ochre like fallen leaves in the whipping high tide of the river I fell asleep hearing. O is the wide-open eye. Know them by what they see. P is the head bobbing above the river’s churning surface, one long leg kicking for the bottom mud.
Q is the loose knot—the needle’s threaded eye. Once, in early love, I was asked my deepest secret. My roving mind was the oxygen-puffed cheeks on the round head of R and a long probing tremor ran through me like ink rippling down the funnel of a fountain pen. I think I’ll die young. When I drop an R onto the page my pulse quickens and I warn the white space to brace for blood.
S is the shadow of teeth and tongue in the body made horizontal by sleep or desire. The slack mouth open to the pretty serpentine of slick shadow around white teeth—S. Sinewy S is a long lasso I cast with loose-limbed ease; finally a game I can win each time. T is the mark to delineate sky from earth. T leads my dullest sentences or the most clinical notations of trauma. S is cool pleasure, but T is a burden I can hardly manage.
U is time’s gentle softening of anther century’s crisp V stitch of tread through cloth—the literature of my matriarchs. Once, I studied faded needlework primers with a troubled mind; a stitched alphabet was the recommended aid in grief for first-born daughters upon the loss of a mother. My stitches crimp my skin in a wavy persimmon W like faded madder root thread.
X nails the cross boards to the door for support. X this memory. I ran with a pack of cousins and neighbors at my aunt’s house on the reservation. There were tunnels for a playground. The boys propped the openings with crisscrossed twigs. Is it true that a child was lost to a cave-in or did I only hear of it and conflate the stories? I dream of a boy wearing a suit made of shale, Xs for eyes.
Y is the corn tassel in a gentle wind; anachronistic whisper of yonder in my mind. Z is the sickle, blade of sustenance to reap the crop and weapon in a pinch. Once in the field, Z whistled above my crown. I thought I’d be sliced in half. I impose Z in a tight flourish across the page, precarious ink-edge of survival.
Patrick T. Reardon