Rachel Rinehart: “Still Life in Miniature”




If you look, you can find them on second Tuesdays
or third Fridays in community centers and church basements,
in the one room sanctuaries of country prayer houses:
crones covied in swathes of Crêpe de Chine, settled like doves
under dust purling in light shafts. Everywhere gowns foam
out of cardboard donation boxes, slouching heirlooms
heavy and hand-beaded with glass. Expert dissectors,
their scissors slash through dresses damaged in carousing—
a wine stained sleeve or torn gusset, the groom eager
and fumbling. These they whip silently into miniatures:
frocks or breeches, miniscule shrouds for babies born
puny, bluish, and mute.

As they work if they speak, they speak only of trifles.
A recipe for chocolate cake, startling new shades of begonia.
They permit themselves small flourishes: a tiny bracelet
or a bow tie, darling sateen diapers for babies who will never
cry or shit. They can’t dispense, either, with practicalities:
seams finished against raveling, a soft lining that won’t itch.
Now and then, a stifled coo. A God forbid.

Still, there are the inexorable whims of muscle memory:
in the muffled song of steel through ruche and ruffle,
in the folds of cream georgette and silk charmeuse
they hear again their hushed hymeneals, the low slink
of a catching lock, the confounding yards of cloth covered buttons.
Drawing a long thread through taffeta, their hands surface
as if through bathwater and they remember the heft
of their own soapy infants.

For they know that sometimes love comes without mercy
to a strange, mangled fruition, the way that surgeons metamorphose
unexpectedly into seamstresses under thick anesthetic drag.
The way prayer and superstition commingle quietly in corners
around little waxen effigies, nacre-sheened and nested
in coffins small as cigar boxes.


Rachel Rinehart is the author of a poetry collection The Church in the Plains, selected by Peter Everwine as the winner of the 2016 Philip Levine Poetry Prize and published by Anhinga Press in January 2018.

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