“Invisible Mending”

C. K. Williams
Selected by Judith E. Stein

Repair by C. K. Williams

Rarely is our first encounter with a poem an aural one. I was introduced to
C. K. Williams’s “Invisible Mending” twelve years ago when the poet read it aloud at a memorial service for one of his oldest friends, the artist Sam Maitin. His exquisitely evoked seamstresses-cum-fates, with their “amputating shears” and teeth that “nip away the raveled ends,” embodied our destiny and spoke to our loss. When Williams himself passed away last year, it was to this poem that I turned for solace.

—Judith E. Stein


Invisible Mending

Three women old as angels,
bent as ancient apple trees,
who, in a storefront window,
with magnifying glasses,
needles fine as hair, and shining
scissors, parted woof from warp
and pruned what would in
human tissue have been sick.

Abrasions, rents and frays,
slits and chars and acid
splashes, filaments that gave
way of their own accord
from the stress of spanning
tiny, trifling gaps, but which
in a wounded psyche
make a murderous maze.

Their hands as hard as horn,
their eyes as keen as steel,
the threads they worked with
must have seemed as thick
as ropes on ships, as cables
on a crane, but still their heads
would lower, their teeth bare
to nip away the raveled ends.

Only sometimes would they
lift their eyes to yours to show
how much lovelier than these twists
of silk and serge the garments
of the mind are, yet how much
more benign their implements
than mind’s procedures
of forgiveness and repair.

And in your loneliness you’d notice
how really very gently they’d take
the fabric to its last, with what
solicitude gather up worn edges
to be bound, with what severe
but kind detachment wield
their amputating shears:
forgiveness, and repair.
 

Repair by C. K. Williams

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C. K. Williams (1936–2015) published twenty-two books of poetry, including Flesh and Blood, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Repair, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and The Singing, winner of the National Book Award. Williams was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2005. He wrote a critical study, On Whitman; a memoir, Misgivings; and two books of essays, Poetry and Consciousness and In Time: Poets, Poems,and the Rest.

Judith E. Stein is a Philadelphia-based writer and curator who specializes in postwar American art. A former arts reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition, her writing has appeared in Art in America, The New York Times Book Review, and numerous museum publications. She is the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in literary nonfiction and a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. A graduate of Barnard College, she holds a doctorate in art history from the University of Pennsylvania.

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