Catherine Jenkins

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My mother taught me to knit.
Casting on:
She was self-taught, reflecting pictures into mirrors
form a slip knot one metre from yarn’s end
translating dominant into left-handed gestures.
place the slip knot on a needle and hold the needle in the right hand
with the yarn over your first finger

She taught me to fear my emotions;
wind the loose end of the yarn around the left thumb from front to back
to hook my desires to the domestic
weave the needle through the newly formed stitch
to the financial
repeat to the desired number of stitches
if need be, to books.

My mother taught me to knit row after row of garter stitch
Row one: knit
sanctioning the creation of endless scarves with varying sizes of needles in varying colours
Row two: knit
sky blue and purple combinations
Row one: knit
awkwardly showing her backward right-handed daughter
Row two: knit
the slow travel of yarn across smooth metal.
Row one: knit

She taught me to lie;
Row two: knit
to speak partial truths when I knew my answer would offend
Row one: knit
when she was too reticent to voice her true question.
Row two: knit
When I tired of garter stitch
Row one: knit
envying her more accomplished patterns
Row two: knit
I asked her to teach me to purl
Row one: knit
she said, “no, keep knitting, keep practicing”
Row two: knit
I stopped knitting, bored.

My mother taught me that some men are only after one thing
unaware that I’d already discovered what that one thing was.
Trying to keep my face stern, I bit my lip hard.

At twenty-five, sick in bed, I cozied into knitting again;
a simple sweater pattern beginning with a knit one purl one rib.
Knit one; purl one
I called my mother and again asked her to teach me to purl.
Knit one; purl one
She said, “you just knit the stitch backward—put the needle into the front of the stitch
Knit one; purl one
instead of the back—that’s all there is to it.” I learned to purl by phone.
Knit one; purl one

My mother taught me perseverance, strength;
Row one: knit; row two: purl
by chance she taught me true forgiveness, resolution, absolution.
Row one: knit; row two: purl
Unsettled by the anniversary of her death, I engage with the needles again;
Casting off:
open the pattern book to find my name
cast off in pattern
written in my mother’s hand.
cast off knit-wise on a knit row
Mould a straight line into fabric, into pattern
purl-wise on a purl row
the logic, the mathematics, escape me.
knit two stitches together, transfer the single stitch
I see only the magic.
then knit the next two stitches together

Catherine Jenkins is a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture, a joint program at Ryerson-York Universities in Toronto. Her research explores the impact of medical imaging technologies on patient-physician communication. She teaches Professional Communication at Ryerson. She is pleased to share the poem “My mother taught me…” in the current issue of Feral Feminisms. Previous publications include, “Aberrant Decoding: Dementia and the Collision of Television with Reality,” published in The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine in Fall 2012; and the book chapter “Life Extension, Immortality and the Patient Voice,” recently published in The Power of Death: Perceptions of Death in the Western World (Oxford & New York: Berghahn Books, 2014). “The Message in Medical Imaging Media: An Analysis of GE Healthcare’s Vscan™” is a forthcoming chapter in the book, Marshall McLuhan: The Mind, the Man, the Message (University of Regina Press, 2015). She has published two books: blood love & boomerangs (poetry) and Swimming in the Ocean (fiction) and, once her dissertation is complete, she is looking forward to resuming work on a new novel.

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