Knitting Poem of the Week 8 

John Hartley Williams
His Life in String

for Matthew Sweeney

What did they knit,
those women around the guillotine?
A man of double-purls
of lazy-daisies, cable-stitch, French knots
a man of holes made plain
in click-reticulated cashmere
a webbed man stuffed with gunny and nankeen
a fiery Fawkes in craquelure
a pleached man, darned and meshed and intertwisted
a crew-necked fellow, twine
unravelling in spit and brine,
aristocratic weirdo member of the tell-the-truth club
(cackles of the sans-culottes ringing in his severed brain)
a Welsh-knitted man
spurting warm hereditary druid-blood, the thread of red
unspooling as the bobbin jerks,
the blade's implacable descending thump
- 'a little light refreshment at the neck' -
a bowling ball released along the alley of the mind
toward the glow of ever-fading meaning,
skittle-fingers of those crones
crouching there to crochet him: decapitated sweater-man
mumbling anti-technologically-minded poems
muttering the rip and rib of life
arms flung out
empty of the flesh that filled them -
the discarded, headless jumper-man of poetry
tossed indifferently here
upon the back of your old wicker chair.

Reprinted by permission of John Hartley Williams. From Café des Artistes, published Jonathan Cape 2009.