The Lacemaker 1841

by Barbara Carlson

Pushed from my father’s hearth at ten

I cried and clung to my mother.

                      What daily fingers they said.

                      Better to pull the threads.

I’ve drawn and pulled, twisted and looped

silk threads for seven years.

 

Up at dawn in my gray cold room.

Downstairs for a slice of bread and tea.

Winter rain strikes the window

Watery beads glisten

Then slowly slide from sight.

 

Out in the cold my fingers freeze,

Icy wind smacks my back.

My thin shoes splash in the mud.

Toes so cold they burn.

 

I dream of the young soldier

who kissed my hand.

Twice.

But that was long ago

and now he’s far away.

 

In the workroom we twenty girls sit

and yawn,

the light is dim.

Eyes down, backs bent

We pulled and cut the silky thread.

 

I prick my thumb.

Again.

 

Lace for sleeves

Cut thread and stitch.

 

Lace for silk and satin.

Keep tension even.

 

Lace for collar and cuffs

Pull threads firmly.

 

The light is so weak.

Cut threads and stitch.

 

Dinner at last.

A slice of meat and

an egg my landlady gave me.

                                                                

I long to rise up and

sweep across the floor

Quick steps

Across the room                                      

And back again

Swirl and spin                                                               

Swirl and spin again,

                                                                

The blow from Mrs. Hartwell’s cane

stings my neck

I have dropped a line maybe two.

                      You worthless girl

                      No better than a dreamer

                      You don’t deserve your wages.

 

The wood ashes in the firepot beneath my feet

Have long ago turned cold.

My back aches.

The pain in my fingers lingers.

 

I can hardly remember morning tea

it was so long ago.

The unfortunate lives of working women and girls of the 19th Century should never be forgotten and so I submit The Lacemaker to you. I am an eighty one year old retired school teacher who has been writing poetry and prose for the past four years.             -Author's submission note

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