For Helmi Aaltonen
I bought sixteen ounces of yarn
as if I were buying a pound of my mother’s heart—
all the warm sweaters she had knitted for me
to strengthen my soul, to shelter me from what life wanted
to do to me, firstborn of a cold marriage
that left her stranded in the wetlands of loneliness.
For years we looked at each other across miles of ocean,
she in Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific, me in California
on the mainland, missiles of various sorts flying
from one of us to the other, some written on paper,
others woven out of yarn she spun like one of the three fates,
measuring out her life, my life, then sharing
with me in ink and paper and postage stamp
what it all meant.
I opened up a box, tissue paper around the precious documents,
unfolded one sweater after another, violet for mourning
neither of us would acknowledge, purple worn only by royalty
but her statement as to how precious I was to her,
blues and turquoises and greens bound together
in a tricolored stitch winding down the front of a vest
in a cascade of colors like a stream pouring
out of a mountain loch.
Now that I’m older than she was when she died,
I salvage these reminiscences, and while wearing them,
know I was loved with every stitch she knitted.
Today I buy a pound of yarn, think of her
far from me across the sea, dead in a land I never have known,
pick up my crochet hook and begin my letter,
stitch by stitch, stretching the grain of the piece
across the years, telling her how much I loved her
for what she taught me to say.