By Jackie Kay
I knit to keep death away
For hame will dae me.
On a day like this the fine mist
Is a dropped stitch across the sky.
I knit to hold a good yarn
For stories bide with me
On a night like this, by the peat fire;
I like a story with a herringbone twist.
But a yarn aye slips through your fingers.
And my small heart has shrunk with years.
I couldn’t measure the gravits*, the gloves, the mittens,
The jerseys, the cuffs, the hose, the caps,
The cowls, the cravats, the cardigans,
The hems and facings over the years.
Beyond the sea wall, the waves unfurl.
I knitted through the wee stitched hours.
I knitted till my eyes filled with tears,
Till the dark sky filled with colour.
Every spare moment. Time was a ball of wool.
I knitted to keep my croft; knitted to save my life.
When my man was out at sea; I knitted the fishbone.
Three to the door, three to the fire.
The more I could knit; the more we could eat.
I knitted to mend my broken heart
When the sea took my man away, and by day
I knitted to keep the memories at bay.
I knitted my borders by the light of the fire
When the full moon in the sky was a fresh ball of yarn.
I knitted to begin again: Lay on, sweerie geng.**
Takkin my makkin everywhere I gang.
Een and een. Twin pins. My good head.
A whole life of casting on, casting off
Like the North sea. I watch wave after wave,
plain and purl, casting on, casting off.
I watch the ferries coming back, going away.
Time is a loop stitch. I knit to keep death away.
Poem © 2006 Jackie Jay
Behind the poem: Jackie says, “I was thinking about things that we do for our whole life, and of how we often define ourselves through what we do, our work or our hobbies or both. I imagine the woman in this poem of mine to be about eighty by now.”
**the first and most difficult row in knitting