Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Sewing Bird
Before the invention of the sewing machine, women used sewing
clamps to fix one end of a piece of cloth to a table, thus allowing
them to hold it taut with one hand while sewing with the other.
Even after the sewing machine rendered them obsolete, sewing
birds were given by men to their fiancées as betrothal gifts.

No bigger than the span of any woman’s
hand, this one was cast in ornate brass,

even the thumb key, designed to clamp the bird
to the table’s edge made decorative.

A small velvet cushion for needles
and pins wears like a prissy saddle,

and though the posture is of diving, or soaring,
wings out and back, its bill opened to hold

fast the cotton, wool, or muslin—rarer
lace—the stuff of the nest its gag: trousers,

aprons, christening gown—a wedding dress’s
seams felled so perfectly the inside was

as flawless as the out. Where the syrinx
nestled, warm song chamber inside the body

of any living bird that might have sung
outside the window, spring steel still recalls

the stricture of its hidden coil, a singular
memory. Its strength in such closure,

the mouth shut to the finished task—the bird’s
only lyric measured and cut to be worn,

torn, mended, and handed down—soundless
cloth the swaddling of yet another’s voice.  

Reprinted from Figure Studies, 2008, with permission from LSU Press and Kent Ippolito.

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