The Circle of Chairs

In her dry-goods store a haphazard
collection of chairs circled
the coal stove: peeling wicker
from the sun parlor, a blurred
needlepoint beyond its prime,
an oak rocker with a broken arm
and a kitchen pine of many Joseph coats
that served faithfully six days a week.

Miss Clara climbed the ladder, her thin
arms pulling muslin and gingham
from rainbow shelves. As women rocked
and gossiped, flannel thumped
across the counter, and tatting shuttles
flew like tongues. Apron patterns were
traced on tissue, while wool, harsh
as a scratchy throat, was folded
into brown bags. Daisy chains were looped
and linked, bluebirds opened wings
on baby bibs. In spring, satin whispered
across the measuring plank and from
the island of linens a bride's gift
of sunbonnet pillows was chosen.

A recipe for jonquil cake traveled
the circle as buffalo nickels roamed
from the cash register to children's
pockets, quarters turned up in
birthday hems, until the chairs
emptied, and Miss Clara leaned the
CLOSED sign against the pale mannequin.
Hunched over her books at the desk
she tried to balance, always
came up short. Pushing worrisome
wisps of grey hair into the net
she'd order more yardage and thread
knowing they'd soon need Easter clothes.

:: Bernice Rendrick, in If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs

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