How a Quilt Becomes a Story

Anita Skeen

Anita Skeen

How a Quilt Becomes a Story was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of “recovery,” in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit of Beverly Fishman's art, also called Recovery. Anita Skeen is currently Professor Emerita in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University where she was the Founding Director of The RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU and is the Series Editor for Wheelbarrow Books. She has been the Coordinator of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch for 41 years, and the Fall Writing Festival for 23 years. She is the author of six volumes of poetry: Each Hand A Map (1986); Portraits (1990); Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame (1999); The Resurrection of the Animals (2002); Never the Whole Story (2011); When We Say Shelter (2007), with Oklahoma poet Jane Taylor; and The Unauthorized Audubon (2014), a collection of poems about imaginary birds accompanied by the linocuts of anthropologist/visual artist Laura B. DeLind. With Taylor, she co-edited the literary anthology Once Upon A Place: Writings from Ghost Ranch (2008). Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. Collaboration is an important aspect of her work and she currently involved in writing projects with poets Jane Taylor and Cindy Hunter Morgan, and visual artist Laura DeLind.

For Chris Worland

Begin with a story, one you have
perhaps heard told several times,
one that has become a touchstone
from the teller's past. Remember
the story involved a double wedding
ring, that these served as pastel roads
where the child ran her toy cars
when she was confined to bed with
illness. Recall that the teller's favorite
color is blue, the deep funnels of morning
glories, the New Mexico sky. Think how
she loves maps, the curvy lines that wind
through places called Big Chimney, Kentuck,
Abiquiu, and Rugby. And animals: the rabbit,
the cat, the hedgehog, a parrot named Mango.
Let Route 119 be the road that takes you to
the heart of the story, the grandmother
who quilted those wedding rings, the mother
who threw them away because bindings
were frayed, seams were unsewn. You
know what a loss that was, though you were
not there. You know how history shows
itself in cloth, how one slip of fabric recalls
The War, another the Sunday dress, one
the baby who never came. Sew
your own story with the teller's story,
the squares, the prints you choose,
the double ring, one yours, one hers.
This quilt you make makes a new story,
a palimpsest, the old story showing through
here, and there, and over there. When you tie
off the final thread, tie your years together,
those past, those to come. When you give
this gift, you stitch up the old wound.

Explore the power of words

Select your story