May I watch how women handle cloth? Handle needles? And thread? Women flatten fabric along the guide, tension pulling cloth through. Women rest heads on the arm of a machine bolted to the table, a small shudder at the pedal pressing. Why does this one grip such long blades, and in such slight hands? Women cut, a satisfying snap that pulls the shape of a girl from an expanse of green fruit, concavities where an arm will wave, a head drop in sleep. Why are threads snapped, frayed in her fingers? Women sit in rows, squinting at tiny stitches, ripping out errors with long sweeps of a hand. So, this is the chalking that predicts stitches. Ruffles to hug a girl at the knees. The necessary widening of a neck-hole. Prossy dies. Machines silent. Women resume, the hum from tables like a room full of time. What could possibly be made now? What is any of it worth? Women stretch sleeves over boards and press them flat. Each wrist pushes and turns under a stare, that vague wriggle in her skin. See, how she sees her own body? Jane dies. Women push hot coals harder. No one should look at herself that way. Against the brick wall, women lean, sipping tea, legs straight out on the ground, in the sun. What are they waiting for? Harriet dies. Beatrice dies. How do they stay calm? Why don't they cry? Racks of dresses, shirts, blouses. Women tag and hang clothes. Why don't they stop? Mary dies. Or scream, why not scream? Women write receipts in long, careful loops. Sylvia dies. Christine dies. Why don't you say something?
Lisa Furmanski is a physician living in Vermont. She spent three years in Uganda working with victims of the HIV pandemic. Her work has appeared in Third Coast, Poetry International, and the Beloit Poetry Review.