The Invisible Mender

The Invisible Mender (My First Mother)

I’m sewing on new buttons
to this washed silk shirt.
I chose them carefully.
In the haberdasher’s on Chepstow Place
I turned a boxful over
one by one,
searching for the backs with flaws:
those blemished green or pink or aubergine,
small birth marks on the creamy shell.

These afternoons are short,
the sunlight buried after three or four,
sap in the cold earth.
The trees are bare.
I’m six days late.
My right breast aches so
when I bend to catch a fallen button
that strays across the floor.
Either way,
there’ll be blood on my hands.

Thirty-seven years ago you sat in poor light
and sewed your time away,
then left.
But I’m no good at this:
a peony of blood gathers on my thumb, falls
then widens on the shirt like a tiny, opening mouth.

I think of you like this –
as darkness comes,
as the window that I can’t see through
is veiled with mist
which turns to condensation
slipping down tall panes of glass,
a mirror to the rain outside –
and I know that I’ll not know
if you still are mending in the failing light,
or if your hands (as small as mine)
lie still now, clasped together, underground.

from The Invisible Mender (Jonathan Cape, 1991), © Sarah Maguire 1991, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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