“My Wife, Sewing at a Window” by Eithne Longstaff

Seamstress by Lily Prigioniero, oil painting of an elderly woman sewing by a window

Image: “Seamstress” by Lily Prigioniero. “My Wife, Sewing at a Window” was written by Eithne Longstaff for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Eithne Longstaff


Spring wanes
and as is her custom
she pulls the dusty
cover from her Singer
and sits at the window
to fashion cotton,
sprigged with tiny
roses, into tiered
summer skirts
for whichever
grandchild wants one.
Time stretches like
the elastic she holds
and I recall a trip
to Rome where,
laughing, we fell
into a church
as raindrops slid
from bare arms.
In a dark side chapel
we clattered coins
into a metal box
and the space lit up
with a yellow glow,
revealing a Caravaggio,
just for us. She said
he has painted the light
and we stood
and marveled.
Then our ninety seconds
of illumination was over
and we stepped back
into lives that were all about
where to next, and
our house will be blue.
Now she is the old
master and as she works
light ripples her clothes
and crowns her head
with cirrus. The rose
fabric is stippled
with thorns and I see
only where the light
falls to make her perfect
and dare not look
to the room’s dark corners.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Lily Prigioniero: “Although the seamstress in my painting is my mom, I related to this poem in many ways, especially regarding the passage of time, a major factor in choosing this one among many. The images at the beginning are vivid and easily approachable in their present-tense setting; then there’s the transition into a past memory with the simile, ‘Time stretches like / the elastic she holds / and I recall a trip / to Rome …’ We are then brought back to the present by tying the Caravaggio experience of light to ‘Now she is the old / master ….’ This time around, however, the passage of time feels heavier and more mysterious, not only because the rose fabric is ‘stippled with thorns,’ but because we are given a glimpse into the future with the poem’s powerful last line ‘and dare not look / to the room’s dark corners.'”

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