Poetry by Maureen Wilkinson

A Woman Knitting Herself into a Labyrinth

This poem won 2nd Prize in the Southwest Open Poetry Competition and appeared in its anthology.  The poem has an associated picture in the 'Pictures with Images' gallery.


I can't remember if it started as a dream, or as a dream-like vision;
the idea of a woman knitting herself into a labyrinth.

She was sitting in a stone room between two arched windows.
Like me she had long, light coloured hair.
It was late summer. A landscape of hills and trees
threaded from one window to the other
with just the central section hidden
where the woman sat.

She was knitting on long wooden needles.
Six separate, coloured yarns were coiled
around the splayed fingers of her right hand.
The heavy fabric she had fashioned
draped her from breast to knee, and its pattern
was necessarily complex; for she was knitting
the map of her own labyrinth.

She kept her back to the view. The two arched windows
rose behind her like wings of light.

At first I thought of making a drawing of the woman knitting.
It was easy to outline the main components,
but all that I could remember of the knitted labyrinth
was its pattern of dark frames; and these containing,
coloured pictures, like a cartoon story.

Perhaps the knitting woman was compiling
a time mosaic; a selective calendar
of moments perceived with such unflinching clarity
that her world caught breath. She might have calculated
those lucid rooms in counted rows and stitches;
on a system of fractal numbers; each recounted
pattern resonating with the tedium and beauty
of endless repetition.

Or could she be performing the alchemical
miracle of literally knitting herself? for the yellowy yarn
was the self-same colour of her hair. If she could unravel
time caught up in sky and skin and stone,
undo the world, like a series of outgrown
garments, until all that remained were some skeins of frazzled colour

on the last shards of earth; yet if she constantly re-knitted
these elements into a single sheet of statements,
with her Ariadne's thread
passing from knitted room to knitted room,
would this signify her death, or a kind
of woolly enlightenment?

And what if the yarns were strings of words instead of colours,
with language's extra dimension, its trick of parallel silences.

Then she might string six statements of herself around her fingers;
six tender or contentious factions; six monologues, competing
for the same voice, and the same moment.

Then the knitted labyrinth would be like an airport terminal's
board of possibilities,
with blanks and letters spinning,
and just a switch, a stitch, a purl instead of plain,
changing the destination.

I wish I could dream of the knitted labyrinth again,
for I am a woman who is writing herself into a labyrinth.
I have two clues to the conundrum; the initial
vision, which is unchanging,
and the title, which contains so many permutations,
that I may be lost inside its corridors forever.

Please read Artist's Notes in my 'Pictures with Poems' gallery for more information about the associated image.

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