The Fabric of Memory

The Fabric of Memory  by Lew Rosenbaum

I’ll make a sweater for you, she said.
Can I design it? I replied. A broad smile spread across her dark features,

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Anna and Greta, mother and daughter, ca 1945

She nodded, told me to block it out on a grid.
Taking a sheet of graph paper, I applied pencil
To the squares, picturing king and queen,
Rook on either side, outlines of the features
In forest green and ruby red on a white background.
Below the figures a row of squares stand on point,
Diamonds with a splash of opposite color in their centers.

She said it was a difficult design; her fingers twirled
Needles and yarn so that each day, on my return home
From school, I’d measure the changes and
Guess how much longer I’d have to wait.
When I ran into the snow, took it for a ride
Down the hill across the street on my sled,
I gloried in the warmth that embraced me with its tight weave.

That was sixty years ago. I just unearthed this fabric
Of my memory out of the drawer from where I heard it calling,
Held it up to remember the snow-whiteness of the yarn
Now aged, much as my hand that holds it, now
More leathery, marked with brown spots.
The figures now set on yellowed woven strands
And I remember the long yellowed whitish hair that dangled
From her head, woven into braids on good days, in her last years.
The cold wind swirls around my head on that slide down the hill
And numbs my gloved fingers and the snow sprays on my tongue
As the runners turn sharply, and all that and more
The sweater in my hands calls up.

As I feel this I look at the sweater warming me now,
A loosely knit garment with a plain dark green back and
An abstract, almost Mondrian style front design and think
Of the nimble fingers that made this for me, a different pair
Of hands, my sister’s hands, born of the woman of the chess sweater.
Some of what warms me this year comes
From the smile I see as I slide into it, the twinkle in her eyes.
We talked as we sat in her dining room
Mining memories, straightening past misunderstandings,
Sharing music, writing, art, history
And all that I absorb from the language of the fabric.

Something like this grips me as,
When I turn in for the night, I warm my feet
With old socks, where my heels erupt from cavernous holes that
Long ago stripped the fibers of the yarn. I have no working
Knitted socks any more; yet I hang onto these because,
Well, they work well enough for my bed time purpose,
But also again I think of who made them for me,
And I alternate using them, so none will feel slighted.

In this new year I am surrounded by, I rejoice in gifts,
The physical gifts that offer their utility, new or old, more or less.
But there is more. They conjure out of separate realities
The community that we are together, past and present.
I worry though. When I am gone, who will remember
The sweaters and what they mean? When the sweaters
Disappear into dust, what happens
To the love from which they were made?