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Tatting Lace: an original poetic series

April 29, 2008

(Original Cover Art by me)


Tatting Lace

“For, we look back through our mothers, if we are women.”
– Virginia Woolf

“Every leaf/ defines its limits. All roots have their histories.”
– Derek Walcott

The sea beneath the cliffs
is the blue in my mother’s eyes,
it came from the blue in her mother’s eyes
thrown on down the line
By my family who worked the fields
On borrowed land above the ocean.
My family worked the field on borrowed land.
Higher hills do not provide
For hearts born of coral and moss,
Where rain won’t flow beyond the stream,
And water is captive to the well.
– Alela Diane


In memory of
Isabel Blackwell Roberts
(b. 1925 – d. 1977)


and for my anchors,
you know who you are.
thank you.


Table of Contents

Part I: The Lark’s Head Knot

3 Yellow Jasmine
4 Scoliosis
5 Spring 1961
6 Dune Flower
7 Dexter Ernest Brown
8 Alchemical Hypnosis

Part II: The Timber-Hitch

9 Jane Iradelle Williams Blackwell
11 John Hamlin Blackwell
12 The Children’s Hospital
13 Tatting Lace
14 Veneration
15 Private Benjamin Franklin Roberts, 20
16 Winter
17 Giles Monroe Roberts
I. Leg Braces
II. The Crooked Spoon

Part III: Patterns in Notation

18 Coral
19 Orange Blossoms
20 After the Hurricane
21 Molting
22 Spawning
23 Untitled
24 After the Hurricane II
25 Villanelle


Part I:
The Lark’s-Head Knot

Yellow Jasmine

On her porch, the willows were webbed
into a wicker caste of time: chairs
painted white as plaited bones. They hunched
with the weight of the spilling, yellow-throated vines,
lolling poison tongues. I had always known
their long faces from the open honeysuckle vine–
which trumpets to eat, and which to let languish.

Every piece, a poison: gold and green
as my mother’s eyes, the dreamed vine draped
serpentine limbs, open-throated, triplicate
singled in rhyme. The vine-insignia of my home,
bearing the name Carolin’. So, every child learns
its laced brutality. How lethal the familiar,
the overly-beautiful vine.



Suspended, like moons, sliced and strung-up
along a crooked wire, the blurry bones hung.
I wanted to be left alone

with the round warble of the negative,
to press it, as he did– with a snap–
to the backlit window-box. He talked

of a naturally bowed head. And I could see
the bent neck of an egret at the scummy marsh-edge
reading the mud for the silvered brows of fish.

He touched the tendons of my neck, joking softly
of the books that’d bent my head
in subjugation. But, in the clicking dial

of the goniometer, I heard instead
the warning of her half-century tied to him,
as hunched Narcissus to the blind pond’s edge.


Spring 1961

He’d run off and someone told her this time
about his father’s bolero-tie being passed on
with his weakness for mothering thighs.

And she’d raged–womb-heavy with his third child,
flying bird-like inside the glass house she kept
with a pound cake and entertainment smiles.

And, Moma said, she’d ripped the carpet up
and the wallpaper aside, then taken the girls
to the beauty shop to have their strawberry

hair cut into pixie-styles. He came home this time
with the African purple diamond for her right hand.
And he sold the green cadillac with brown paper bags

of hair still inside. And she took him back
that spring before her sister died.


Dune Flower

I was enticed by your dark, stylish eye
amongst all that white, the brambles,
dollar weeds. Like the brazen sister of
the Black-Eyed Susans in my Grandmother’s
front garden, you raged in a subtle frame
of azure and salt-thick air. Splinters,
prickers, sea-oats. To all these Southern Belles
you danced flamenco, a sibylline play,
a fire hushed-up. Your skirts spread around
the gaping black fuzz, truncated and fringed,
sinful pink-orange, and yellow. Each petal
seemed a slice of fabric, a cut of fruit,
to be stitched up, to cover you, like so
much lace piled up over brown legs.


Dexter Ernest Brown

The ash cooled for three days. The fog lifted.
The collapsed beams were cracked like the river basin
into rivulets of blue-black soot.
Your six year-old fingers joined others, combing the dark ground
for twisted silver, unscathed pictures, finding none.

You wandered off, to run your hand across the piano,
hollow as cicada-skin, watching each key
crumble like a tapped ant bed.

Someone found a set of porcelain figurines
that had been on the mantle: a man and woman,
standing, seated treasures from England.
In her distraction, grandmoma gave them to you,
to sit inside the antique, glass-fronted doll case.

Maud must have been baking a ham, a man said.
But the dense mass enfolded in the ash
was grandaddy’s heart and liver, basted
as with pitch from pine trees. It was strange
to have so little of him to bury.

You didn’t go to the funeral. Too small, still, for that.
The house filled with people, news spread that the farm was gone.
And you watched her circling, too dark-haired to be widowed,
remembering those hands cracking his whiskey bottles
on the Haint blue porch edge. Bad Crops More Regular Than Rain
the paper said. Grandaddy died with a cigarette in his bed.


Alchemical Hypnosis

On that morning, in spring, the hydrangeas
were molting into purples and blues from their anemic green.
I shook your daddy hard, into the grey birdsong,
clinching my throat in a mock-scream.

It was the house, the doctor said,
with its webs of mildew-gossamer
invisibly trellised in the drywall,
an unwelcome garden green.

In the hospital:
a half-dozen
pills, a vapor-filled
glass and rubber anemone
clothed my mouth and nose.

I knew the drugs gave us both the jitters
like forty cups of coffee a day.
But, without them, I’d stop breathing again.
Under their pulse you turned in me, relentlessly.

I would whisper to you, my flutter,
my unknown daughter, unknown even as girl:

I am sure you will die, like your sister
before you: a bloody, faceless mass.
If not, then your hands
will be withered like the hibiscus left
over-long in the bald sun.


Part II:
The Timber-Hitch


Jane Iradelle Williams Blackwell

Frizzed sable hair draped like Adonis,
into a bun at her nape, concealing the ears of a somber face.
Two bare, grey eyes carrying the sea inland,
where John had built her a house.

Her cheeks were pale, pinked like the lip
of a conch’s smile. She spent days among the dunes,
studying the ribbed rivulets of wet sand, veined
like the Cape Fear, lifeblood of her father’s father’s city.

The house in town was on third,
near Dock street, where barrels of pine pitch
slid over cobbles into the bellies of ships
headed north along the barrier islands.

She’d met John at a wedding in Wilmington;
she was kin to the Derizettes on one side,
and he on the other. It was his coal-black eyes
that drew her, round and half-pinned

under his cheeks like setting suns behind hills.
She walked inland after him, towards the windlessness
and red clay dust carrying a chest of webbed lace and silver
with handles curled like the tip of a leathered oliveshell’s face.

She couldn’t know then that first her own
black-eyed daughter, then her grandson, and finally
a great-grandaughter-graced with sea-colored eyes-
would retrace the journey, laying claim to her lost seaside.

John built her a kiln, behind the house,
outside of town. She spent mornings
grooming china plates, brushing the bone
with the colors of inland wildflowers:

deep purple foxglove hung on tall
stalks, among trumpet-vines and grasses.
Plucked Venus’s fly-traps,
bluebells, and honeysuckle, with its languid

tongue-petal, inviting children to pull
the stamen from its heart, pressing
their lips to the hidden end. She chronicled
the natives of his Carolin’

to replace the bowing company
of sea oats, spread on the shifting sand.
In her wedding portrait she held, among
the roses, cat-tails and goldenrod.


John Hamlin Blackwell

Father would go hunting in the spring,
bringing Mother bluebells, and a bird.
He would take willow-grouse, quail, or wood-duck,
though he felt more at ease cutting
down a flightless one. The turkey,
earthen ugly cousin of the peacock,
could be drawn into the open, leaving
impressions of three clustered fingers
for every foot in the dust. Head pinched
out of clay as an afterthought, glazed blue,
bearded and wearing a scarlet neck-tie,
the birds followed the feed into a field-
their desire to live, bait for their death.

Collecting it by two spurred feet, the feathers
shed the iridescent dust like from a racoo sculpture down his back,
his round black eyes shining,
the bird’s no more dull than in life.

It took days to de-plume, and soak
the earth out of its Braille flesh.
The feet and beard’s odd hair-like feathers
would be clipped, wound with tine and hung
among the others in the shed,
hatch-marks for their wedded springs.


The Children’s Hospital

The building stands
open-faced, without a portico,
spread like a landing egret on the unhemmed inlet.
The structure looks vacant now
as an eyeless, ant-hollowed toad.
Water runs between mossy oaks
and the Blockade Runner hotel, capped like a groom-cake
with thick black corners and a bell-hop.

You spent years there.
And, had I known, I would’ve crossed
Oleander Street where its open mouth narrows
to form the bridge, along gated boat-slips,
to place my hand on a pane of wrinkled glass.
To look for you, in your white-cornered hat.

But, I traded in that city’s sea-salt air,
and waited too long to come back.


Tatting Lace

Frivolitè: the gentle inculcation
of knots and loops, my fingers hitching threads
around teardrop-holes of light.

This white and gentle nothingness
spreads the tied tatted lace into petal shapes
on a late winter afternoon.

Parliament is perched at the river’s brown edge
like a sprawling pin-plumaged bird,
serious and gothic.

But my thoughts turn to her,
in the 1920’s “Leica” photo-card: her closed-eye smile,
hands on hips, curls winging from under her bathing cap.

Like the lark-knots, I close gaps of years in arched picots,
assembled and laced negative space-
a gentle recreation of the woman I never knew.



The closing of the light’s half-year:
spilled, split-limbed daisies, strewn
on hot granite between my silhouetted legs.
I’m talking to you.

Turned out and spread
like cottonwood spores,
we are your children’s children:
muddled quadroons of you,
none so dark-eyed as our grandmother.)


Private Benjamin Franklin Roberts, 20

I learned we were not trees staring into your vacant sleeve
from the buttoned end. I plied Daddy, who said
if you were a starfish then there would be two of you
where the hand had been.
If a crab, it would merely come back again,
your brazen blue-red claw, for waving in the mud
to attract the smaller sex. Like a lizard? I’d asked.
And Daddy said that people could leave behind a piece of themselves
to save their lives from the cat’s mouth,
but we can’t grow it back. The molting translucent skin,
the red ink-tipped tale stub, would remain,
long after the weaving severed piece
was pinched between God’s fingers.

But I know you feel veined fire,
and visions of a steel propellor blade,
a branching pain where the limb
is fifty-years gone. Even the body aches
for what was present, and is absent.



Here, the frost-lined furs
break out over the wet, orange
papier-mâché sidewalk.

The white crystals settle along
the Vena Cava of magnolia leaves,
like tobacco in green rolling-paper.
Were we poor when Daddy used to make
his own cigarettes, littering the porch
with clumped tobacco, sealing his vice with spit?

These things, I had never seen
until young adulthood:
the charred-black of wet bark,
their tines cupping frozen diamond dewdrops.


Giles Monroe Roberts

I. Leg Braces

There is no brace for the mind
like the ones that held you, Daddy,
pretty baby, with dark, coal eyes
and puffed, suckling cheeks.

Your legs, no longer than a forearm,
trellised with metal to leather booties,
your feet unable to swing in time
with your gurgling mouth.

II. The Crooked Spoon

One remaining piece of pewter, delicately wound
with flowers along the tapered handle,
bearing the engraved G.M.R. where the thumb
might press. We thought it beautiful, fighting
over who was to dip it into applesauce at supper.
The beauty lay in the deformity:
a head that bent startlingly leftward,
forcing your right hand to work, to use its own
crippled body in scooping yellow grits
or church peas. Turning over the unpolished pewter
as your grown child, my heart aches.
For you, there was always reprimand and correction.


Part III:
Patterns in Notation



In the drag of a full moon, my face unfolds:
a fan of arms heralding the fractured

luminescence. I stand in the place
of my birth, on the backs of my foremothers.

Their tiny skeletons are rapt. Their paled,
bone-clean marbled faces bow under the sea’s

weight, and my own. Skin pocked with caverns,
preserves the tunnels of their former, breathing

life, and they remain–stilled–captured
in their death-masks. This is my time, before

I am pulled under like them. I stand, spread,
breathing out a translucent cloud of my own.

They root my feet in the brittle,
unforgiving sand, sending nightward

orbs of life, grains of my own daughter’s strand.


Orange Blossoms

They rest, like gleaming starfish, mouthing light-
bulbs, fringed in gold-faced sticky fillae,
expectant. Clustered like stars on the forked
trunk, among the ovate, bottom-heavy
leaves, dark green, with crenelated margins:
scalloped like a cloud, or doily. Petals
joined, nested like ivory measuring
spoons: tablespoon, teaspoon, one-half, one-quarter.
One-hundred thousand of you, pollinated,
palming life. The decision has come: wet,
smooth, black bark sheds the “not viable”-the ones
with insufficient light, or hosts to moths’
homes. Luminescent petals slide to the ground:
the ill-begotten, eleven-week blood
pulp of a pitiless mother tree.


After the Hurricane

Enduring rushes of sound, like a capped ear,
blend my breathing, slowly, into crests and troughs.
Standing on the shoal-eaten, cavernous scar,
I watch grey waves tongue the sand.
Seaoats bowed in prostration will straighten again.

The tiny dune flowers are headless, their gaping red throats
peeping among caved crab digs, mutely rustling.
The wind is always here. And early fall is marked
by these named, whirling beasts, unraveling ferocious sea skeins,
fingers of rain blasting the land. There is no keeping La Mer
from the land she wracks seasonally.

She is reckless, uncouth-or-is it we?
Her children, feigning never to have donned fins,
pretenders to a clay-packed crown
crusted with starry bradford pear-blossoms in the spring.
Have we forgotten that the non-native trees perish?

In fall winds, their branches are tossed as scabbards
against the stilted houses. While the palmettos rattle,
without bursting, the loblolly pines remain, statuesque.
They have the shallow roots, but they can bend.



All the other mammals are born blind,
inky blue spots pressed onto the downy pink.
But we blink, ointment-eyed, swaddled.
Through a morphine haze, you whispered
about my sibylline dark-grey eyes,
before the summer weeks
paled them, to match yours in verdant green.

In the days before shedding its skin,
the diamond-back is blind. His mask
of dirty tracing paper shuts out heat
and light, his body coiled alone
in a hollowed den, the dark a preparation
for the second coming, for the gilded
iridescence of his newly plaited skin.

This blindness will give way to its own holiness, Moma.



Here in the shallows of cool, blue brooks,
among whistling reeds and round, tear-molded
rocks, you came to be.
As a child you slid with joi’d’vivre
through the foam, down the belly
of your water-mother, to the mouth
of her womb. And here, in the salt-like-sadness
water, you’ve waited.

The moon glares over your shoulder,
all black-whiskered, slick-faced,
shiny in the half-light, you power
over those same rocks and the reeds,
like earth’s coarse hair, until you reach
that self-same spot, among the tidal pools
in the muffled mountains.
And you were born there.

And there you give birth again
to orbs like tiny clear moons with eyes and tails.
And as they latch to reeds, you roll
into a bear’s clutch, dying,
fulfilled by your weeks on earth.



The sea takes no prisoners, but bends the willing
into its folds like bedding. rusty knobs on the doors,
salty skin.

She followed her own sand-crusted feet
into the flatlands, the hot windlessness
where sirensong vanished into red clay dust.
And her paintings became of wildflowers,
pinned into vases, posing prettily
for a day or two. She left the tempura to thin
and crackle, like the roughness of their dying skins.)


After the Hurricane, II

The trees stand for years, naked. Dead but not
uprooted. Victims of la mer, the water they cannot drink
starves them. Like clusters of toothpicks, blanched matchsticks
they clutter the highway’s edges with looming
death-portraits, heavily purchased, while we walk
among them as though independent of the salt-laced soil.



For my brother,
Grayson Blackwell Roberts

What we are is not so different, you
and I. Your russet hair, deep doe-eyes glide
gently across the world, the trees, the sky.

Yours track, mine quivering across the lines
of pen to paper, or stitches fingers slide.
What we are is not so different, you

and I. Steady-handed tracers: moved, high
by the intricacies of our art, slid
gently across the world, the trees, the sky

by palpable passion. The names fly
from my lips, yours: Latinate conifers spied.
What we are is not so different, you

remind me, platinum fletching putty
poised on the arrow’s shaft, then the vein laid
gently across the world, the trees, the sky.

Fletching is not unlike sewing, shooting
not unlike writing: pinning down to look:
what we are is not so different, you and I,
beings born to the world, the trees, the sky.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2008 8:29 pm

    Amazing – really, amazing.


  2. greeneyedmuse permalink*
    May 1, 2008 1:31 am

    thanks, Zach.

  3. greeneyedmuse permalink*
    May 1, 2008 1:34 am

    A word particularly to my family:

    This has been a labor of love. And, I love you all. There are some obvious deviations from the truth of “how things happened” in some poems. Sometimes I have to take liberties with the facts, to make a more impactful work. I hope you understand.

    – your Whitney

  4. Momma permalink
    May 2, 2008 2:07 pm

    Your work is absolutely lovely. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself, your heart, through your writings. We love You. Momma

  5. Daddy permalink
    May 9, 2008 1:33 am


    Wow! What a lens into your thoughts and feelings. I enjoyed your works. I will comment on the most recent: You are becoming a beautiful butterfly…one molded carefully by God to share His creation and to look at it from a wonderous perspective. I am glad I took the time to read tonight. Your chrysalis will soon release the butterfly I knew you would become. I miss the early days of sharing nature with you and I want to be able to share our lives as we have in the past.


  6. May 20, 2009 9:11 pm

    Neat writing,, hope to come back again soon.

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