“Threading the Bobbin” by Jackie Bartley

Jackie Bartley


She’d shout, “I’m threading a bobbin,” and I’d come running like a cat
who hears food rattle in her dish,

shimmy into the space between her dresser and the sewing machine
to watch the shiny metal

bobbin whirl on its stalk on top, faster and faster, till one thin thread
spread, thickening

to a colored lozenge, blue-green, turquoise, aquamarine,
the chocolate and coppery browns

that were her palette. Or, if it was a dress for me, a skirt or vest, navy, green,
red, pink. Because she

said that red and pink looked best on me with my father’s brown
eyes and fine, brown hair,

though I wished for her thick, rich auburn, for nicknames like “Red”
or “Rusty” and all they conjured

of light-hearted, boyish confidence, how it drew people to her,
the friends whose photos

she’d taped in scrapbooks, Christmas cards from the ones who lived
in faraway places like Seattle or New York.

The only time that complacent, unselfconscious grin fixed on her face,
the bee-hum of the Singer

delighting me, pleasing her the way nothing else seemed to do.
When she sewed, time fell away

the good years returned, the years when she was single, a secretary
going to work every day,

admired for her typing speed and accuracy, the precise and elegant
way she took dictation,

the energy and attention to detail that made her bosses say
she was really the one

who ran the company as they laughed and called her by one
of her red-head nicknames.

When I left, she was already nudging the lever, guiding fabric across
the paten’s metal teeth

to make that first perfect seam, bobbin thread shuttling underneath,
needle thread descending, joining the two.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004


Jackie Bartley: “The hum of my mother’s Singer as the bobbin filled was as soothing as a Tantric chant, a single note resonating with and giving rise to layers of sound. I still relish that sensation: sound and sense in synchrony; word and idea unwound and rewound to form a poem, a compact and tightly layered version of story or state of mind.”

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