by Paulette Demers Turco

The last time mother closed her sewing machine,
she’d sewn my sister’s gown of silk and lace,
a veil with pearls, fulfilling her own wish.
The house, now her own space, would have no hum.
She’d reached the private goal she’d set herself:
to dress each daughter till her wedding day …

plus bridesmaids’ gowns and her own dress that day.
She’d learned how fabrics stressed her one machine
and oiled it well; used threads she chose herself.
She learned the slip of silk, the weave of lace,
required she guide her Singer, feel its hum–
with yards and yards of fabric toward her wish

of daughters dressed by her–beyond her wish
when she took her vows on her wedding day.
While her love served in Normandy, she’d hum
soft tunes of his return–no sewing machine.
Her trousseau was of borrowed silk and lace.
Her groom gave her a Singer. She’d teach herself.

She made her first dress simply, for herself–
an A-line shift in navy blue. Her wish
for Christmas velvet, Easter’s hand-made lace,
came first in trimmings for the holiday.
As we arrived, she cherished her machine;
from birth, we breathed in rhythm with its hum.

She’d set the bobbin, press the footplate, hum
a favorite tune, and fit each dress herself
in pastels, flowered prints, as her machine
sewed ribbons, pleats–yes, every daughter’s wish
for birthdays, dances, gowns for Spring prom day–
velvet, chiffon, rayon, linen, lace.

All sewing done, she stored away her lace …
knit blankets, scarves, a while … soon wonder, hums–
lost words from lullabies. On shopping days
with daughters, friends, she lost her sense of self,
what was said and where she was–her wish
undone, instead confusion: what machine,

what meal, what day, what daughter, what is lace?
Our photos proved how her machine would hum;
our wish, her awe– “I stitched these gowns … myself?”

“Singer” was the winner of the 2020 Robert Frost Poetry Prize.


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