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.


Laura Da'

Laura Da’ is a poet and teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Eastern Shawnee. Her first book, Tributaries, was published by the University of Arizona Press and won a 2016 American Book Award. Her next book, Instruments of the True Measure, is forthcoming in 2018. 

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2018