In this poem about honoring a friend and long time peace and justice worker, Pat Ranzoni combines the micro and macro, the immediate moment of searching for lost pinking shears with the larger issue of injustice and the loss of national values. Images of fabric and thread and the lost shears become metaphors for the larger situation we face in the world. The whole poem beautifully combines a critique of our contemporary politics with praise for a stalwart worker for justice. All of this occurs in a rich mix of news and daily life.
Pat Ranzoni is Poet Laureate of Bucksport and an artist who works in words, paint, needlework, and other media. She has been published widely, and her anthology, Still Mill: Poems, Stories & Songs from Making Paper in Bucksport, Maine 1930–2014 (North Country) was in the 2019 UMVA exhibit, The Way Life Is: Maine Working Families and Communities curated by John Ripton, who also invited her to read at the opening.
Harriet H. Price is a writer and activist who has lived and worked in Maine for 50 years. She has worked for the American Friends Service Committee, the US Commission on Civil Rights and the US Senate American Indian Policy Review Commission. Price is the author of essays, articles and op-eds, and of Blackberry Season: A Time to Mourn, A Time to Heal (Innisfree Press, 1993). She is co-author with Gerald E. Talbot of Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People (Tilbury House, 2006). Her life’s work has been recognized by the University of Maine’s 2007 Maryann Hartman Award. Her other arts include oil painting, piano, and stitchery.
Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry Editor
HAVE YOU SEEN MY PINKING SHEARS?
for Harriet Price’s 80th Birthday Season 2020
or come to the house—looking high and low. All the harder,
pierced by the news I can’t get without all this trum-trum
ragging on the air.
To bear it I need my pinking shears more
than ever for making a needle book for Harriet’s 80th. With
the widest-eyed needles, all the better to see for threading,
in honor of her life-long vision what she’s seen and still sees
and has sown with, fighter for Equality and Peace her whole
life spent mending and gathering up ends and strands and
patches of proofs and samples, evidences needing to be saved
and shown so that, having sewn her an apron and poem years
ago, this is the best I can manage now with these threadbare
hands and because she’s one of the few who would recognize
and prize it being a frugal by – hand Yankee seamstress
like her mother.
If I can just smooth the grains and biases of
my anger, worry, and sorrow towards this man’s fabrications
and ugly embellishments I might remember the whereabouts
of this old-fashioned tool for perking up what remains to raise
up the beauty in our lives, all we’ve survived, never needed
more, I dare say, because of him and his just – won’t – do backing.
Not in the scissors drawer of the chest in
my sewing corner with my wedding dress shears and four
generations of plain utilitarian ones that have cut the whole
lengths of continents and back I swear believing no borders.
And delicate engraved ones designed for embroidery and
fancy work. Capable of trimming scraps for joining “crazy”
quilting, turning the plain–even damaged–into the splendid.
The cringe-worthy into the awe-inspiring the way we long
for a leader to do. And, I can’t keep from saying,
how to take up crewel vs. cruel.
But here’s the 2 pound bag of Laura Ashley
remnants I could afford from their 1979 collection on sale
at their bargain outlet 40 years ago. Half Harriet’s life. And
mine. Becoming my most treasured stash drawn from sparingly
all this time for special.
Like the little turquoise calico kite I appliqued
with multi-colored floss tail and his name across hand – dyed
occupied sky to memorialize the Palestinian boy killed
having lunch on their roof with his mother. And the Brewer
Chamberlain Park runaway slave likeness for the Amistad
square with satin stitched NORTH TO FREEDOM arrow
up its green patterned Maine. Now this. Pricks of blood and
tears on everything through the years we’ve made, we sisters.
Like this needle book, Grammie Hattie’s kind,
imagined for Harriet this time, only the most storied fabrics
will do, with pages of flannel for rows of “sharps” (as needles
used to be called) pinked along edges making a miniature zig–
zag pattern indicative of tiny ricrac tracks. No other map
will do. The spine stitched through its fold, a pearl drop
button and reinforced loop for its catch. Signed, dated,
and kissed on its way through history downstate in time.
Not in the desk mug of writing utensils nor in
the cupboard with the making supplies. Nor in Mama’s ash
potato picking basket for pieces in progress oh when will he
hush and feel the children wailing along the walls and cages
the way we do day and night, night and day please may I find
my pinking shears for working through these sobs and fears.
Not with the holiday wrappings still on the card
table nor on the shelf with my bowl of washcloth knitting for the
kids. Time was, Harriet went to jail protesting the likes of him
and his gang, I would if I could. Oh what has become of us what
being done in our names. Not on the kitchen sideboard with
the grocery list.
So unless I can recall where these scissors are
–please soon–this will have to serve as an I.O.U. in my best
hand, sealed with a prayer that, like my pinking shears, a much
minor lapse by worlds, our poor nation is only temporarily missing
and if we keep working and searching – everywhere – refusing
the loss, swearing on all holy books – not least, needles – to take
greater care, ever after, of the realm we’ve dared dream, but failed,
we’ll bring about the return, earned and never needed more.