Cold Quilt

Cold Quilt
by Michael McFee

Our clear-eyed guide said it is the slick
cotton that makes quilts cold. I wonder
if it isn’t the enduring dowry of bitterness
stitched into them that makes us shiver,
as in that quilt (unfit for hanging) handed
down to me from my father’s mother, begun
the day her husband died, a lifelong lament

composed of old suits and shirts he’d worn,
threaded to her leftover dresses, its design—
each pane a basket of memorial flowers,
a dozen loud triangles tipped on their sides—
a stiff pastiche of grief and the solitary
nights spent trying to transform their bad luck
into something useful, used. No busy bee

touched that quilt. Her life became a patchwork
of quilted plenty, her backyard a dormitory
of vegetable beds, her table a dazzling pattern
of cakes and pies. But she stayed skinny
and wrapped herself in the plain handmade cocoon
of that death-quilt every night, even when
she began to fade in her children’s spare beds.

At the funeral home, my uncle the soldier
draped her coffin with it, prayed, then handed
that life’s flag to me, compactly folded, her
crooked stitches and nearly-rotten panes still
tenacious after half a century, the sheep
I count now in the inherited dark, her cold quilt
a poultice I spread on my chest before sleep.

     The Language they Speak is Things to Eat:
     Poems By Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets
     University of North Carolina Press, 1994

Arts & Crafts
Cold Quilt