Patchwork

Dec 15, 2017

Today’s poem is “Patchwork" by Jeri Theriault. She’s the author of three chapbooks, and a full length collection, Radost, my red, Her teaching career included six years as the English department chair at the International School of Prague. She also taught at Deering and South Portland High Schools and at Waynflete School.

She writes, “I grew up in Waterville and graduated from Colby College. Both my mom and dad came from large Franco-American families. Though I was only eleven when she died, my maternal grandmother (Memere) looms large in my memory. There was no actual quilt, but much evidence of her skilled needle – an intricate rag doll, a many-layered Christening gown. She was far more articulate with hands than she was with words. She had a third grade education. The inspiration for this poem was that held-breath moment when my aunts and uncles found the scrawled prayers in her bedroom.”

Patchwork
by Jeri Theriault

Today I found one of Memere’s quilts
with baby sweaters in a box marked Goodwill.
I remember her sitting by the window, picking
squares of fabric from the pile. She told me
where the cloth came from—the shirt
Rene wore the day he lost the store,
Katie’s first day of school dress.
Later as I lie waiting for sleep under the squares,
rubbing her even stitches, I read other family
stories: satin, red flannel, jade cotton.

In her house the rainy day of her funeral, aunts
and uncles in dark tweeds smelled like winter
mittens. They picked up the work
of her hands—knitting on the rocking chair,
embroidered guest towels, curtains and napkins
she had made. Murmur of voices swelling
and sinking like the roar of a shell held
to my ear. In the bedroom someone packed saints,
statues and pictures, releasing yellowed scraps of paper
that fluttered to the floor, each one
a carefully written bargain with God:

For Jimmy’s scholarship- two rosaries offered;
three masses and a novena for baby Anna, born sick;
five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys for David’s job;
daily mass to free Bill from the whiskey.

I gather the quilt into my arms, I’ll
hang it on the wall- a family tree, a map
to distant places, each patch another prayer.

Poem copyright © 2016 Jeri Theriault.
Reprinted from Radost, my red, Moonpie Press, 2016,
by permission of Jeri Theriault.