Idle Hands

The other night a friend asked why
I was always cooking and cleaning
while she just sat there chatting,
drinking wine at my kitchen counter.

Why not stop for a while, have a drink, do nothing?

I trailed my hands in the soapy water,
letting this hitherto unthinkable idea
sink in for a moment, picturing
the distant planet of the past
where women were always busy—

Aunt Veronica forever poring over patterns
for pullovers to manufacture
on her magical knitting machine.

Aunt Nancy and her neighbors knitting madly,
never glancing at their needles
as they leaned over the garden hedge
to swap the latest scuttlebutt.

Aunt Kathleen who never married,
doing nixers, decorating wedding cakes
with spun-sugar couples for her shopgirl friends.

Granny’s needle always flying, sewing clothes
to deck the family out for sepia-toned photos
in their Sunday best.

Even our mother, ever a diffident housekeeper,
was a dab hand at the soda bread, sauces,
puddings and pastry.

They have long since lain down their needles,
pins and wooden spoons. Their hands are still,
Rosary beads twined in their tired fingers.

I gazed down into the soap bubbles as if
I could see them there in living miniature
like tiny figures waving from snowdomes
on a kitchen shelf. What are my labors
but a kind of posthumous devotion?

Angela Patten
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  1. Gerry Slaney

    Angela’s poem is so close to my own reality that it was as if I was watching a video of the women from my past rather than reading words on a screen. Thank you, professor Patten, for a short reprieve from the political madness of today to an escape to a simpler, more loving past.

  2. John Goggins

    Although I must admit the prejudice of being Angela’s brother, I really love this poem with reflects our childhood so strongly and so articulately. We were built on strong foundations!

  3. Martin Swords

    I am Angela’s cousin and Kathleen’s child. Angela, I can still see all those hands, and recall the chat that went with the work.. Thank you for your beautiful poem, and bringing us all to such wonderful times , hard though they may have been they only seemed happy to us all. Martin Swords

    1. Angela Patten

      Martin, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I really appreciate you reading the poem. We are all connected through those aunts and mothers and it’s a special bond. I feel honored to be able to sing their praises, even just a little.

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