The Flying Geese

By on Nov 25, 2021 in Poetry

Flying geese quilt with geese silhouettes 

for Gertrude Williams

According to folklore, “wild geese flying south always fly in the shape of the initial letter of the island to which they are going.”

I thought these stitches would last forever,
like her full-throated laugh that still echoes deep
through my days, the heart’s proof
of what is not forgotten.
Etched fine as black scrimshaw, her fingers, that once
snapped weevils dead in the hot Alabama sun, slipped
thread through needle through scrap
until the very end. Nothing was lost —
the cast-off shirt
became the wings of wild geese;
the red curtains were cut to size, a trail
of diamond-shaped rays.
For her, the quilt redeemed all
that was discarded, everything was repaired as something new.

But over time the threads unravel in small moments when I am glancing
elsewhere. Patches tear, hems fray, the soaring birds come undone —
the change as sudden as the betrayal of trees by a colder season.

I spread the quilt on the dining table; it is listless as a patient
under the surgeon’s “O” of light.
Spools of thread congregate, little busybodies at the scene of the crime.
My hands follow the glide and prick of her needle,
And with each stitch I make I feel
her hands resting lightly on mine.
In the laying down of pieces,
the assembly is all —
and we understand the Babel of colors, the meaning of patterns
only by stepping back.

The hardest part to get right is the perfect V of geese.
I can still recall her exhortation — “Look up! Look up!” —
to watch for the alphabet in flight.
But I would only see birds whirling like derelict leaves,
blown uncompassed from their boughs.

Now, in the narrowing hour, as the light
comes more from inside than without,
and the final seam is done,
I see what she has given me —
birds rising like a curtain, drawing heavenward to spell
her memory in the undefeated sky.


Mark Evan Chimsky's poetry and essays have appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Xanadu, Mississippi Review, The Cincinnati Judaica Review, and The Three Rivers Poetry Journal. In addition, he has received the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award as New/Emerging Poet. As a professional editor, Mark has worked with Johnny Cash, Susie Bright, Robert Coles, and Arthur Hertzberg. He has compiled a number of nonfiction anthologies, including Creating a Life You'll Love, which received the silver in the self-help category in ForeWord's 2009 Book of the Year Awards.