The Splint Mill

splintmill.jpg

The Splint Mill

These are the short days...

These are the short days
the dark days
a procession of hours
that weaves a stretch
of unwelcome solitude
gripped by the ribs of the Earth
aching to expand
for the love of light
as mine do for the old days.

These are the wet days
the glossy days
of mist and muck
when the earth sticks
to my boots
now drying
waiting for a scraping
so the worn cracked hide can be
smoothed again, greased again
the better for lacing
around my widowed feet.

And these,
these are the long nights
the longing for company nights
the reaching the splint mill
down from the shelf nights.

Blowing away the dust
blowing away the wings
of the forgotten lives of moths
seeing the pinhole tombs
of tiny creatures long since gone,
I ease a wooly remnant
between the joiner’s secret geometry
and this unison of moving parts
responds to my bony ineptitudes
until we both align with the old ways
and memory moves through the spaces
like straw.

Ah the fragrance of straw!
Blond strips of the golden days
of companionable days
piled high in the Plaiting School
where godly women in sooty skirts
rustled like the stooks in the fields
offering a cane crack for lazy testaments
still remembered
like fleshy weals on my silent tongue.


But plait we did.
Plait we did.
from our first bread
to evening’s crust
Plaiting as we walked.
Plaiting as we talked.
Plait we did.
Over and under.
Under and over.
Simple braids at first
and not more than a score of yards
Plait we did.

Older, practiced
working 13 splints or more
shiny surface down
nimbly twisting forming
selvedges for stitching
endless lengths for reeling
for market, for mother
for bonnets, boaters, baskets.
Plait we did.

Our young palms aching
fingers blistering
mouths sore
in the moment
a splint too swift
through the spit of lips
sliced a fine raw sting
At the corners of our speaking.

But plait we did.
Plait we did.
from our first bread
to evening’s crust
Plaiting as we walked.
Plaiting as we talked.
Plait we did.

Long are these crone nights
the meandering seclusion of
on my own nights
a steaming pot of next to nothing
threading the air with thyme.
Oh the plaiting days!
Long ago gone days
beckoned by the turning
whirr and clack
of the splint mill.

- Beverley Nolan