Mr Heller and Son by Libby Hathorn

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We painted our bedroom walls
blue, quite a deep blue
and placed fakely beautiful Chinoiserie,
ginger jars and vases, white and strident blue
on ledge and dresser, any easy surface.
My mother came with a gift of lace
for the new room, old lace,
a bolt of palest blue, still lovely
‘Stored these thirty years’, my mother said,
‘Bought from the Hellers.
You remember Mr Heller.’

Lovely lace, quite true
But lace of the wrong blue.

Two men in suits, strangely European
full of deference to my mother
charmed by her gentle face
her seamstress knowledge of the cloth
they offered. And her ready sympathy.
Mr Heller and son.
A gorgeous bazaar month by month
spread before us on the ugly orange doormat,
screen door propped opened with their
clumsy cardboard suitcase,
children assembled eager for the show.
Mr Heller and son.
Folds and swirls and seams and lengths
and pieces, all manner of fabric,
and remnants of an unspeakable past.
Mr Heller and son.
Unrolling, unfolding, wistful and charming
ticking and huckaback, georgette and crepe de chine.
They brought the vocabulary of cloth
and their stark European sadness.
Chenille and alpaca, cretonne and grosgraine
and lace of palest blue.

The bolt of lace lies on the floor
the wrong blue, the wrong lace
for the strong walls,
the assembled Chinese pieces
in the freshly painted room,
and I wonder that a length of lace
faded blue and inappropriately lovely,
touches me for its nearness
to something so far off.

I shall use the lace of the wrong blue.

Source: Heard Singing by Libby Hathorn.  Out of India Press, 1998

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