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American Life in Poetry: ‘Mend’

Kwame Dawes

By Kwame Dawes

“Mend” is a poem of great intimacy. L. Renée, remembers her mother as the mender of garments, and as someone who had a life of rich experiences before the poet was born. This moment of separation described in this poem is a testing and revelatory rite of passage for mother and daughter. Her mother’s gift of precise hand-sewing is also a gift that mends whatever may seek to separate mother and daughter.


My Mama had the gift of hand sewing–one perfect stitch

after another perfect stitch, eyeballing the precise length

of thread needed to repair what had ripped a gaping

hole, unmaking the whole swath of cotton-polyester fabric

she draped across her delicate boney shoulders before

a night out with my father–painting the town red

she said of those early dates when he handed her his fat

quarters hoping they would be enough to make something

beautiful like the outfits she sewed: plaid culottes with matching

vests, paisley dresses, fringed halters–she tells me this while

I watch the needle bully a ruby rivulet from her thumb, sullying

the myth of cotton without the blood, when she tries to mend

my middle-school uniform skirt, a navy pleat I never noticed

had been stretched into splitting–

Poem copyright 2022 by L. Renée, “Mend” from Poetry Northwest. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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