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. 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 . . . 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. (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.
Poem and photos © Judith-Kate Friedman 2021.