‘Denim Blues – For Daniel’

In 2020, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I found myself mending. My envisioned quick photo essay about a jacket became a long poem.

Honey! Your fire calling red tag
Levi’s jacket has new life. Who
knows how long you’d left it
on the wood peg by the door
among the venerable storyteller
tweed, the camping jackets and
your favorite Tilley hat? Drawn to
soft well-loved denim almost in a
similar way as I was to you! I did
take it up one day and curiously
fit myself into its wide sleeves and
too broad shoulders only to find a
gaping hole over the heart side
which no doubt led you to retire it
years ago but never throw it away.

Denim Blues

Another wish list item longing for
attention or repair, perhaps?
Or just like a story
hanging in a cave, a cloak
awaiting its right moment to be
held, considered, voiced, told, 
it just floated there, on ‘your side’
of the doorway . . . so long that
‘your side’ has now become mine.
Who knew it would take so much
daring for me to even pick up
each item you wore? To commune
with each, cherishing its scent and
subtle heft in my hands? Most
jackets I immediately returned to
their peg-place clearly not yet ripe,
either in themselves or in me, to
be touched. Some went swiftly
into the box for offerings to others.
But this one, which I remember
around you, holding you, nuzzling
up around your neck, open and
shifting as you called fire,
sometime at the very, very
beginnings of our deep-well,
steadfast, ever-amazing love . . . 
This one captured me.

But I felt it would be someone else
to be the one to sew it or repurpose
it, not me. With sorrow, I folded it
up into a box marked repair or give
away. And there it stayed. Through
hours of sorting and avoiding
sorting. Through eons of days that
have made up this year beyond all
years. Through autumn and winter
into the pushing through of spring-
time bud by bud. Through the
deep interior indwelling of breath
honored ever more tangibly, more
respectfully, with more sanctity in
these seven months of sheltering
from Covid, from callousness, from
the hatred that killed George Floyd
body to body, that tore all our
hearts apart world wide in ways
that no one can ever repair
except with fully fidelious care.

Care that acknowledges wounding
for the truth that is, that pauses in
the stillness to absorb the sanctity in
scars, that opens its senses to the air
and now notices, as if newborn,
how fragile fresh air is, how vibrated
by greedy aircraft, how harmed
by sooty particles from millions of acres
of fires, how ragged and rugged this
life on earth, and how inevitable this
moment. As if to take down
everything now, everything rigged
 and rigid, down, way down, off its
 statued pedestals, off its museum
 walls, out of its antiquated error-ridden
 frames. And so it seems it was with you
 and this: You bid me, through the weaves
 of this cloth you loved, the denim, longing,
 calling, yearning for proximity to flesh and
 blood, to song and bone. The denim
 began to whisper, insistent as a late
 summer mosquito sensing its time
 was nigh . . .

Denim Blues

Pick me up, make me new.
Refresh my soul, wear me in love.
Bring me alive through your hands
and with you. For you are my bride,
my always bride, for you will always
be my bride. Can you see? You can
do this. See what arises? From
ashes. Dare. Breathe . . .

The whisper continued so constant
it became its own drone, a tone
almost imperceptible which none-
the-less built over a series of days
like a pond simmering with algae
bubbles when the sunlight is right.
And so it was that in a moment of
not-thinking I was drawn to the
small room where I found the box
with the jacket well-folded on top. I
lifted it and beheld you as I ever so
gently slipped it into my hands,
retrieved from the land of grieve
and give-away to save. From abandon
to have and hold. From neglect and
forget to I will cherish you always.
I heard its song: Claim this place,
it sang. Claim this thing. This is yours.
This is your home.
Put it on. And so I softly shifted
myself into its sleeves, shouldering
its weight, having forgotten about
the tear, amazed I had ever made
this garment an orphan! Why
would I reject it? How could I neglect
to notice its every texture and fold
had brought you so much practical
warmth and pleasure and loyal comfort.
Its blues in gorgeous hues of indigo
and sky, its frayed places of rending full
of mystery. No one will ever know the how
and why. Take this task, take it up while
there’s still time, it sang. While there’s
patience. While you still taste us.
And so it was I found my heart clothed
in warmth, in balance, more snuggly and
closely held than I could have dreamed.

I listened to its wishes and went up
into the loft, called by my mother’s
sacred things to see if embroidery
thread might be among her sewing
notions. And yes! Here. And down
the ladder steadily, with care,
listening. Pausing to bring thread
and cloth together in amazed
delight to see how close the colors
wed. And then like tinker bells, the
needles called from their jumbled
place in the drawer amidst
unneeded medicines and beads
yet to be strung. There among this
place of findings, amidst the maybe
and maybe not, a lone darning
needle said: let me be the one!

And we sat for hours in the rocking
chair, as I found my way to stitch
the time, realizing as I began that
it was the one year anniversary
of your return from the emergency
room, your last return home. They
had kept us there all day and sent
us on with a remedy that required
us to keep vigil all night. So we
watched Bohemian Rhapsody and
wept and wept and wept for the
music and the mystery and the
magic of living so fully in song when
one is called to court rhapsody in
this strong and tragic, fragile life.
And you let me hold you, wracked
with weeping, let me tell you all
about how it really was for me when
you’d almost died five months
before. Honey, you let me cling
to you like arctic ice must daily seek
to hold fast to its ancient home,
slipping and resisting slippage until
it can cling no longer.

A whole year has passed now.
As I breathe and stitch and
feel into the every day between
that day and now, between you
and me and us. I look down
at my hands and with ancestral
satisfaction growing stronger
with each stitch I hear and under-
stand. I receive and honor
your gaesh: Weave this seam for
three days. Find a bead to make
the suture shine. Wear it well into
the New Year. For it soon will be
the Birthday of the World. And you
will have this old new garment and
me to shelter you and bring you to
the new time.
To hold you as you honor
my forever flight, my first yahrzeit,
and call a fire and let me go on
a little further, knowing I will
love you always, close and
from afar, watching you as
you rise and fall and dance
into the year arising, sure as a
needle through the cloth of time,
as my heart beats now
as earth herself, as your lips
part to drink in the blessing kiss
and greet this new year’s very first
shape of moon.

Denim Blues

(Port Townsend, WA US)
Hear Judith Kate reading Denim Blues - For Daniel.

Judith-Kate Friedman inhabits the flinty places where art, activism, ritual and oral tradition collide. She sings, composes, writes, curates spaces, produces events, gives concerts, tends hearth-fires and occasionally makes records. Her vision for 2021: kindle kindness, expand cross-generational collaborations, champion rarely-heard voices, awaken artistry, catalyze justice.

Judith-Kate Friedman
Photo by Aletia A. Alvarez

Poem and photos © Judith-Kate Friedman 2021.

5 Comments on “‘Denim Blues – For Daniel’

  1. so many beautiful metaphors that touch and bring alive what we may make commonplace but on reflection connects us to a deep capacity to feel alongside you the journey of grieving and experiencing gain in unexpected ways when confronting loss – makes me want to hear more and hope to – thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Deeply touched by the power of these words depicting a love so untouched by Time, and space, or any human limitations and futile framework; the needle and thread that can mend the deepest of sorrow and grief of losing your dear Daniel: what a touching tribute to a love 💗 eternal and beyond the illusionary desperation of death and dying, letting us, the readers, know that that which is eternal can be perceived, repaired, brought anew because of the audacity of Presence, Perception and Poetry!
    Thank you 🙏 dear sister for repairing hearts and hope that a Love so vast conquers limitations of preconceived finality and separation of illness and death;
    Tears trembling, and washing away like ocean tides, clearing the shore of suffering into resplendent resonance of Hearts eternally in Love 💗

  3. ah, i love this poem, Judith-Kate!

    could be a song there too, I think. Call of the Shirt would be a good song …

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