Home Economics

Kathryn Stripling Byer Click to read more...

Kathryn Stripling Byer has published six books of poetry, including The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (Texas Tech U. Press, AWP Award Series, 1986), Wildwood Flower (LSU, 1992) and Descent (LSU, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in newspapers and journals ranging from Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage.  She was the 2007 recipient of the Hanes Award in Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and has served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.  Her most recent collection is Descent (LSU, 2012). She lives in Cullowhee, N. C., surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

circa 1960

Now girls, look carefully
at your embroidery stitches.

Blind stitch or hem stitch.
Back stitch or chain stitch.
Don’t forget whip stitch.
And French Knots.

A good stitch reveals
a wife’s  character.

But what if I did not want
to be wife?  To spend nights bending over
a story of ever more winding and
blossoming foliage?

This looks like running
stitch.  Why all the hurry?

When will this lesson
ever be over? Its hoop cast
aside on the table
or turned in for judgment?

Last of all, look at the underside.
What do you see?

I see the violets now
become unrecognizable.
The bluebirds, the inexorable
bluebirds of happiness snarled.

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Discussion

One Response to Home Economics

  1. Madeline Thorpe says:

    Byer matches the repetitive rhythm of stitching with the rhythm in the poem. This pace parallel absorbs the reader and invites us to partake in this wifely lesson. Mastering these various stitches proves that one is a good wife: “A good stitch reveals/a wife’s character.” After it becomes clear that this is a sewing class or instructional session, the poem shifts. The speaker questions this wifely activity as well as this role overall: “But what if I did not want/to be wife?” The speaker seems forced into this submissive role as a dutiful wife and challenges this. She longs for the end of this lesson and expresses her melancholy, evident both in her question in the poem and in her views of her final product: “The bluebirds, the inexorable/
    bluebirds of happiness snarled.” Her unhappiness is inescapable and relentless; both she and the bluebirds are stripped of their freedom, forever confined to this stitching.

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