Braid

By Susan Stewart b. 1952 Susan Stewart
Shoulders knobbed against   
a slat-backed chair,   
the temples tugged, a pull

at the nape, you felt the up-
sweep as she smoothed the fine   
wisps back and tucked

yank into yank
and a third into that   
until the consecutive

dodges of thumbs and first   
fingers gathered,   
fraying and filing

to their end—ended
in an ornament that, suspended,   
looked ridiculous, even

on a child who mostly   
set forth with   
what was called

a “finished” look, some   
loose ends in order where   
others were not

and a slight weight below   
the nape’s pull. The view   
others had of it

was invisible to you.
It made something there   
where there would have been

a blank—now instead   
a kind of face   
sent from woman to

woman like a duty,   
an obstinate   
duty to pattern.

It’s too simple to see   
one thing rather   
than another, a wish

protruding once it’s been   
suppressed, a vise that holds   
a thought in its proper

place until it bobs   
to the surface
of a generally balmy

sea. Women and   
woman only a letter   
away—a strand gets

mixed, then mixed   
right out of the heaven   
of perfect fit;

one kind of accident   
turns into another.
The whole head throbs for days.

Black and white are woven   
into gray the way   
hyperbole has no chance

once it’s juxtaposed   
to reason—negation   
just a thread among

the available options   
and hope itself apparent   
there in the very

notion a made thing can last.   
Tougher, coarser, split   
weave in the years. Shorter,

longer, shorter, the brain   
bound to its anchor.   
The brushed-out waves

with their rick-rack   
shadows, a thread   
inside the case,

the case inside
the locket, the locket   
beneath the yoke.

All the effort   
to save in itself   
a form of loss.

You can tell a story
many ways. You can leave   
something out or put

something in; you can fool   
yourself and hide.   
You can shake out

the form or try
to manage every wisp,   
but the latter will

only bring you pain.   
You went under
the hand and eye of another

and the tether cannot   
be undone.


Susan Stewart, “Braid” from Columbarium (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by the University of Chicago. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Columbarium (The University of Chicago Press, 2003)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Susan Stewart b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Youth, Parenthood

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Susan  Stewart

Biography

In an interview at the University of Pennsylvania, Susan Stewart said that her primary goal as a poet is “to get people to read more slowly, and to reread, and to read a whole book and go back to the beginning of the book and see connections.” Her writing can be startlingly clear, while at the same time—in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, on the occasion of presenting her with a “Genius Award”—it makes “strange and . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Youth, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.