Knitting Poem of the Week 9

Jo Shapcott
Robert Watches Elizabeth Knitting

It will be found that DNA mentions nothing but relations... The relata, the end components of the relationships in the corporeal world, are pehaps never mentioned. Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature

Knitting is a bore but Elizabeth
nods and smiles and clicks to herself
as if it were more than just useful.
She goes happily about the task,
moving in and out of it without haste,
perfecting tension, cabling, ribs.
She looks forward to the sewing up
but not too much, knowing how to mesh
the pleasure of the final thing,
all sensuality and wholeness,
with the independent life of every stitch. 
 
Where does it come from, this compulsion
to call her a whole list of things
other than what she is? The string-winder,
the long fingered, the sitting clock,
the fur maker and on and on and on.
From shanks by sharp shears to Shape Shoulders
she is what she is, my shank shifter,
the one who weaves and stitches up wool.
 
The needles click in a rhythm I can't get at:
part and whole, part and whole;
two heartbeats, a breath, two heartbeats.
Her lips silently move to mark
the four or five last stitches in the line. 
 
Elizabeth's pattern is cut small
and pasted in her diary: a book of days,
a book of stitches; lunch dates and meetings,
Right Border and Neckband, Left Front.
There is no picture, only the long strings
of phonemes - purls and plains
made unpronounceable by the feminine science
of the knitting pattern. She bows
her head to translate the printed page
into this odd manipulation of sticks and string. 
 
I can't get my mind around knitting.
It starts to have everything
when you come down to it - rhythm,
colour and slow but perceptible change.
The meaning is all in the gaps:
a pattern of holes marked out by woolly colour,
a jumper made of space, division and relations.
  
Strange to see these youngish hands,
with no puffiness and no obvious veins,
repeat the banal and tiny motions
over days over weeks over months.
I ask too much and am too hasty;
this knitting is an exercise in trust.
 

From Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (Faber and Faber, 2000).
Permission given by Faber and Faber Ltd www.faber.co.uk