[significant revision July 2, 2006]

ironing the napkins gave her satisfaction

they exuded a doughy patina of warmth
her mother’s stories
guests on Saturday evenings
friends relatives for dinner
candle light glistening sterling
silver candlabras creamers flatware
cream soup steaming potatoes
roast beef onions in cream sauce sweet carrots
dark aromatic coffee in porcelain cups rich cream
cigarrettes and fine wine home made mince meat pies
a tot of port with a cigar over the old stories

the often washed linen was quiet, soft
although a young nephew had once squealed

wow we’re having the hard napkins

welcomed with that phrase
the hard napkins were quite soft
much as linen gave to restaurants
hotels and railway dining cars
an aura of gentility and class
so it gave her dining room table
an elegance appropriate to
flowers candles silverware
steaming food coffee rich conversation
laughter photography jokes stories

legends were born here
epics that would reconvene years hence
tales told in another voice but still hers
to loyal friends family cousins second cousins

Remember the time

she would begin
the linen wiping her lips
and over her face would come
the soft mask of memory
gentle humour compassion love
one napkin she would spread
across the chest of her husband
who otherwise ruined his shirt early in the meal
another under the plate of a two year old
most on laps or sliding softly to the carpet

The washed and ironed napkins
were arranged in two folded rows
twelve of them alone on the linen table cloth
overlapping neatly diagonally geometrically
softly lustrous in the dim sunlight that slanted
through the glass drapes in the west window.

She was organizing a space in the middle drawer
of the splendid dark maple hutch
the drawers fitted into its curved gleaming front
glided open silently easily
at the back she discovered several
eight neatly folded unused napkins
gifts from the old aunt
her mother’s sister
who had stored them
removed from her own
mother’s linen chest
after the cancer had taken her
stored them forty years
in a cedar chest in her bedroom
passed them on sacredly
to this niece she had liked
less than two of the others

— she always played favourites
sour as curdled milk
dependent upon her sister for a social life
reproving judgemental religious
easily disliking the imperfect fourth niece —

these napkins had no heat
or if they did it had long faded
to reside on some bitter moon
silent ice encrusted dark alone
far from the dim sun

she lifted the eight napkins as one
truly hard fixed unyielding
she thought of hot water soaking
loosening the flax binders then
ironing smelling the pungent steam

she tossed them down the laundry chute
then went to the window and
looked out at the warm sunwashed street

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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1 Response to linen

  1. Stephanie says:

    this one really resonated for me. It is so lustrous in its details: so vivid. The things of the matriarchy so lovingly (and darkly) described.

    The fact that you are writing so much really seems to direct a great variety to the things you are writing about: I am constantly (and very pleasantly) surprised by many of the themes. It really makes me want to check in and see what is next.

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