Lori Wilson: "When to Wake Is to Head Down a Road"




over which an unpredictable wind raises such dust I can’t breathe

            and the sky through grit is a face drained of color,


I want to return to the dream where color figured, even if no one spoke,

            even if I didn’t move. There was a room with white walls—


perfect corners, each angle exact and straight lines where walls met

            not only each other but also the ceiling, the red pine floor.


On two walls: a window with raised wooden sash, fine screen. On a third:

            a door with glass knob, brass hinges. On the floor:


skeins of embroidery floss—wrappers already slid from the thread:

            sunflower, magenta, silver, turquoise—unfolded


colors still kinked but untangled, radiating from gold paper cylinders

            piled, a cobbled sun in my lap. Some slide under the door,


some climb the wall to a window screen’s mesh of needle eyes pulling

            them through. I remember the feel of that thread—


dividing strands, wetting them in my mouth, poking until the needle

            accepted them, linen yielding to its point, in and out


a hundred times: I love thee more than yesterday, less than tomorrow

            my grandmother’s tablecloth embroidered with grapes,


purple silk under my fingers a calming ritual in the chaos of smoke, loud talk,

            heady smells: turkey, butter, black coffee, olives—


the whole family crowding my grandparents’ apartment on Peebles Street—

            silver spoon against china cup, ice in a glass, strike of a match.


Was it there that I learned to leave my body, grounded only by stitches

            I rubbed with my fingers, while I hovered observing


from ceiling, window sill, doorway, watching not only my grandfather—

            cigar waving to make a point—my father shouting,


my grandmother hiding a smile with her hand, but also the child, distracted,

            her food untouched, her fingers’ rhythmic motion?


In the white-walled room, gleaming threads lie untangled and I know

            I could choose any one and follow—color drawing me


out of the room, out of the house, out of my ordinary life. In the dream,

            I lift one strand, feel the familiar silk, but that’s all.


From outside the window, as swirling dust clogs the screens and dulls

            the fluttering threads, it gets harder to make out the girl


sitting cross-legged on the red pine floor, harder still to remember

            she held the beginning of something bright in her hand.


Lori Wilson is the author of the poetry collection, House Where a Woman (Autumn House Press, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Salamander, Laurel Review, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.