Threaded Lives: Poems from the Fiber World

Taos, NM, Rane Gallery, 2009

For this collaborative effort, I paired up with Patta Butcher, who created The Healing, a gorgeous painting on silk. My task was to respond in poetry. I was struck first by Butcher’s remarkable use of color—and second, by the story of silk and its origins.

The Habits of Instars

They can’t stop chewing—
irresistible, the taste of mulberry,
the membranes and juices of leaves.

They chew, they spin, they die.
Those spared the boiling water bath
emerge, unfold their wings, but free

of the sheath they wove around
themselves, they cannot remember
how to fly. Their eggs, once hatched,

release more worms to chew
the sunlight stored in leaves
and spin the single filament

it is their wont to spin, one strand
to each cocoon, three thousand strands to weave
a pound of silk—like spun candlelight,

the fluid spiraling from their salivary
glands, the spinnerets with which
their mouth parts have been fitted—

three hundred thousand figure eights
for each cocoon. Five thousand years
of feeding looms for shenyi, kimonos,

and still they do not tire of winding
swaths around themselves, releasing
the humble filaments that reel

into this wavering light, that brim
like apple blossoms and coral reefs
with all the healing colors.

The Healing by Patta Butcher

The Healing by Patta Butcher