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River Shawl
Kathryn Stripling Byer


She’d dribble the fringe of her shawl
in the river. The quick current rippled the black threads.
They floated as she wished she could.
They wanted to be swept away but she held fast
to what had been woven. Her mother’s shawl.
Now her own. How much longer
to be handed down, this black keepsake?

She’d lift out the fringe,
rub it over her face, feel the cold
water run down her cheeks,
down her neck,
into white folds of flesh underneath the dress
worn before her by her kinswomen.

What might she catch in this web
if she let it drift far enough
out of the shallows,
into the dark center
where she could not see the bottom?

How far would she have to wade
until she stepped into
some other world, under the sun-dappled
surface? The river itself was a shawl,
always wrapping itself round the hills,
threaded with golden light,
trailing its castaway leaves.

It could weave her into its weft,
carry her farther than she could imagine—
the sea she could feel surging
inside when she let herself
want what she knew she could not
have, a life she could open
as wide as a closet door onto
garments no woman had worn
before her. Nobody’s life but her own.

From Clothes Lines, ed. by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham (Catawba Publishing, 2009)
Used with the author's permission.


Kathryn Stripling Byer (1944 - 2017) was born in southwest Georgia, but moved to the Western North Carolina mountains in 1968 to teach English at Western Carolina University and became an integral part of that state's literary community. She served for 5 years as North Carolina's first woman Poet Laureate and was the author of nine books. Kathryn was known for her poetry advocacy and her generosity and encouragement to other writers.


Post New Comment:
How incredibly this.
Posted 11/20/2014 05:51 PM
I'm enchanted. A very special poem.
Posted 11/19/2014 10:44 AM
I plan to keep my browser on all day so that I can re-read these words woven together so beautifully.
Posted 11/19/2014 09:56 AM
lovely images and story...
Posted 11/19/2014 07:11 AM
Janet Leahy:
This poem moves like the river, beautiful images. Thank you,
Posted 11/19/2014 06:59 AM
You have woven me into your poem this morning. Thank you.
Posted 11/19/2014 06:22 AM
Just beautiful. Thank you.
Posted 11/19/2014 12:41 AM
Yes, the river itself was a shawl / it could weave her into its weft /
Posted 11/18/2014 11:37 PM

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