Michael Longley: An Amish Rug

As if a one-room schoolhouse were all we knew
And our clothes were black, our underclothes black,
Marriage a horse and buggy going to church
And the children silhouettes in a snowy field,

I bring you this patchwork like a smallholding
Where I served as the hired boy behind the harrow,
Its threads the colour of cantaloupe and cherry
Securing hay bales, corn cobs, tobacco leaves.

You may hang it on the wall, a cathedral window,
Or lay it out on the floor beside our bed
So that whenever we undress for sleep or love
We shall step over it as over a flowerbed.

A contemporary of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley has long contributed a whispered poetry to the complex weave that is the Irish voice.  In the midst of a sharpening winter, “An Amish Rug” seems a fit reminder of amatory comforts and vivid colors amid the severity the Amish call “plain.”  These quatrains braid together various occasions for reverence — religion, labor, harvest — to say that a charmed sanctuary is available for the making if only we lower our threshold of attention and behold.

“An Amish Rug” was reprinted in Shenandoah two decades ago and now can be rediscovered in Michael Longley’s Collected Poems (Wake Forest University Press, 2007)

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.