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The Flagrant Dead
The Rug Maker
Tattooed on my hands and wrists, the knotted patterns
repeat themselves, as I tie the warps to the heddle,
to form the shed. Sometimes I sit at the horizontal loom,
the tripod above my head, and lift the alternate warps,
running wefts beneath from the shuttle in my hand.
Or else, seated at a standing loom, between cross beams
and upright posts, I unfurl drawings as the work goes;
these contain designs to guide me as I knot the yarn.
Once I sat in a workshop, in rows with others,
while the master weaver called out changes of color.
That was mechanical, though, and now even men and boys,
ordinary laborers, will weave in shops, on looms
they’ve never built, running yarn they’ve never strung.
These days I work in a room in my house, in the dark,
not needing light, or just enough to see the pile,
the hooks and metal combs, and the clippings at my feet.
In this space that feels like a yurt, I remember
the songs I learned from my mother and grandmother,
as our rugs grew like melodies, like the dowries
of beautiful brides contained in fields of endless light.

As the knot counts rise, yet remain the same,
the patterns flow, each line advancing toward the edge.
I always use the sketches, but, as I work,
the details matter less and less, and the pile lifts,
like woven air, up from the loom, towards a brightness
beyond the deepest madder-dyes or the finest silk
or the surface float of gold or silver thread.
And when this happens, my heart will soar
like a young wife’s, into the holy distance above me,
into the space between my husband’s head and the stars.
And this, too, I learned as a girl, during instruction
in the countless ways there are to plait a fringe.

Hearing stories of ancient palace carpets,
I also learned that every knot is equal to the eye,
yet the eye, always at the same distance from each knot,
must wander like a vine, mirroring and doubling,
into fields more rich than beds of real gardens.
So I gather and separate, combine and divide,
until there is, or seems to be, no end of meandering.
With each arabesque, I scroll through enclosures
of lilies and peonies, peacocks and cypresses,
until, like sand for water to wash with in the desert,
this wandering, too, cleanses for prayer.

More and more, though, my heart is empty.
The daughters of my daughters have kept me alive,
but now, in the cities, where they live among strangers,
their weaving is shallow market stuff,
and their own daughters have other things to learn.
In the great carpet of the mosque at Ardabil,
the central medallion is a golden rosette of the sun,
around which are sixteen almond-shaped pendants,
which enclose, within that light, four lotus blossoms,
the divine source of water, on a gray-blue field.
The earth’s boundless tendrils go everywhere,
and the world is as alive as the fingers that knot it,
as the voice of its weaver chattering and singing,
as the look in the eye of a young girl listening.