Poems by Maura Doherty


CAN YOU KNIT ME A SHAWL?                                                  

Was I that lame that I didn’t know you could knit,
Mom? That you clicked needles as well as Aunt Maggie
who turned out Irish sweaters for all seven kids? You
turned out roasts of beef and chicken, hundreds
of pies: apple, rhubarb, chocolate cream, lemon meringue.
Our kitchen overflowed with them. But it was just what you did,
not something special. But the knitting, that I didn’t know.

1967, me, Sister Maura, hidden away in the convent, wrote
the letter requesting a shawl. In white wool, please. As if
I asked you to bake me a pie and deliver it
to the Motherhouse. Only it wasn’t a pie, was it?
It was a shawl. Hand knit. Did I even stop to think,
do you even knit? Will you call Aunt Maggie for advice? No,
good Sister Maura, bent over with prayerful worry, dust mopped
marble hallways, chlorox-cleaned marble statues, chanted
in Latin four times a day. Tucked away Sister Maura wrote you
saying, I’d like a shawl, please. As if you had all the time in the world.

As if my teenage brothers John, Michael and Peter didn’t still live at home
and eat all the food in the house. As if you didn’t walk your shopping cart
to the A&P on Castle Hill Avenue to stock up again, and again and again.
But me, good Sister Maura, her head bent in prayer,
swirled rosary beads through fingers as easily as you
made pies. I asked for a shawl.

I wrapped the shawl around me at Christmas, stood
a little straighter and prayed. Dad’s letter told
how you got it done. Amidst the boys’ fights, mopping
floors with ammonia, washing and drying clothes on the line.
First shawl, almost done, fell victim to a cigarette burn.
You started again, got it done, Thanksgiving closing in. Washed it
in Woolite where it shriveled into an ugly mess. Started|
number three. All day, all night, nothing stopped you.
If Dad hadn’t told me, I would never have known
what it meant. Love, determination and Druid grit
knit into every stitch.

The shawl wraps around me still, convent days long gone.
Now I know who you were, underneath
your quiet ways. A woman who knits,
no matter what.


DON’T LEAVE ME ON A SHELF                          

Kuan Yin stepped down, arched
an eyebrow, spread her hands
and grew life-size. It’s about time,
she said. Collecting dust isn’t good
for my allergies. Her robe dazzled
white, gold hairpiece glinted
in the light of my office.

She held out the fish she carried.
He stinks. I took the slimy thing, put it
in recycling, caught my breath
and asked, How is it being you?
Guiding us all over the sea of karma?

Oh, that. Most people learn
from their mistakes.
And how about forgiveness,
I asked? You’re in charge
of that too, right?

With this she bent over in gales
of un-goddess like snorts and snarffles,
took a breath. Honey, that’s tough
for everyone. Like, you.
Your mother.

I took a step back. You know about that?
Baby girl, don’t worry. I
had to work things out
with my mother too.

Just then, the walls of my office
became fields of lily of the valley.

Honey bun, she said. Let’s go for a walk.

[Inspired by God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught]