The Quilt: 25 April 1993

A Poem

It’s the hands I see first, on this panel,
the community of hands reaching toward a name
that could be yours, could be mine,
but happens to be Bob’s, the hands simple
as those we drew in the primary grades,
tracing around splayed fingers, stubborn thumb,
a ghostly outline on manila stock.
We cut them out, took them home
to our moms.  These hands are fabric,
paisley and denim, tartan and corduroy,
a school of hands swimming toward
Bob’s name, hands with their first names
stitched awkwardly in thin thread.
I lay down my own hand, pale one
in the multitude, for enough time
that I feel the hard earth
beneath the weave, a scattering
of small stones.  My hand
is the princess resting on the pea.
We move on down the corridor, silent
as those around us.  Here’s a panel
from Ames, Iowa, one from Kansas, another
from Hawaii, green palm fronds bordering
a blue sea.  This is worse than
the Viet Name wall, you say
letting go of your tears.  The squares
stretch north and south, east and west,
the four corners of our hearts.
All this color, I think, all this brilliance
about loss.  Tom, the next patch says,
then Randy, then Susan.
We say the names aloud, a litany
of stolen light, as we compose
our grief among these postage stamps
of cloth, how we mail our private
and collective message on ahead.

Anita Skeen
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    Michigan State University Museum

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