Saturday, March 10, 2007

Unknitting - For Susan

She had chosen the pattern with elaborate care
not the symmetric diamonds of the fairisle
but narrow nordic peaks
that reflected the high ridged mountains
where they lived together.

She had chosen the pattern with such care
because she was using the best yarn
long fibred yarn with a tight twist
firm rigid multi-ply strands
nubbly as it ran through her fingers

It is a good thing too
because you cannot unravel any old wool
you cannot take the soft short-fibred yarn
balled and fluffed and matted
each strand into another
and unravel that - it has become one
piece of felt.

But this wool was so strong that each strand
still retained its integrity.

So she sat down to unknit this sweater,
25 years later, the grey and the charcoal
and the natural off-white and black
diamonds and triangles interwoven
around the neck and chest and wrists.

First she turned the sweater inside out
and taking a pair of scissors
she cut the yarn of the hem on the collar
and carefully pulled out each sewn stitch
and uncurled the turned under ribbing

And setting aside that first crumpled thread
she searched for the last cast off stitch to undo first
and threaded that piece back through its final loop
and began to unknit the garment.

At first, she pulled from the end of the row
but slowly she got the hang of it
and lying the sweater flat
she pulled each row from the row before
and loosened the wool carefully

And let each length lie before her
in a pool of wool
and then when the pool was deep and
threatened to entangle itself again

She draped it over the chair and hung the grey
in long skeins ready to be washed
the black and charcoal and off-white
draped themselves in shorter lengths.

She unraveled the collar and the neck and the chest
down to the armpits
and then separated each piece out
the arms and the front and back.

The draped wool grew thick
and piled on top of itself
in loops of soft grey
until the last stitch of each last ribbing
had been detached from its next one.

And then she took the tight kinked wool and
lay it in the tub in a lukewarm bath
of slightly soapy water
and let it soak until each strand floated
free and straight and new

And she hung the wool over the rods and rails
and counter tops and towels
until it had dried it smooth loops.

She picked up an end and placed
it against her thumb
and started slowly to wind up the wool
around and around
creating a pull-from-the-centre ball
to be used again.

Tight it pulled against her thumb
and grew and grew
until she laid it down
and began another.

She wound the wool into balls
creating a separate ball for each colour
the charcoal and the black and off-white
became small balls of disconnected yarn
which she set aside to use for mending later.

The grey grew into a pile of firm round balls
tight-wound solid balls of wool
25 years old and ready to be reknit
as if it were new and had been shorn and spun
a few days ago.

But the soft smooth grey
with flecks of dark and light
was the colour of a low ceiling of cloud
on a Saturday morning.

It was the colour of pavement on a dull day
the colour of the walls
in the corridors of hospitals
at night when the lights are turned low
and eveyone has gone except for parents
of young children drinking their last cup
of coffee before they curl on a cot
in the corner of the room beside the bed
where the child lies breathing
you hope she is breathing.

But she took the wool anyway
and redeemed it
She had one pair of needles
and no pattern at all
eyes brimmed with tears
unfocused and unwilling

She cast on a row across and
began with seed stitch to lay the wool flat
and tried a row of twisted cables
then stocking stitch against pearl
in diamonds and squares
And rows of baubles and diamond cables
raised like bumps and welts
across the short rows.

It grew long and soft
folded in a loose heap on the floor
as she knit into the night.

And now she wraps the scarf
around her neck and runs her hands
over the texture of the wool
threading her fingers into each cable
and over each pattern
unplanned, unimagined rows of strength
and purpose - soft warmth.