Holding On To The Frays

Was it 9 cm or 9.2 cm? Which side got sanded down?
What is the kettle stitch?

Little by
little, these things start to fade. With all my might I reach
back and stretch my fingers into the fogginess of those memories
from Siena. I remember well enough how to fold and cut pages,
measure the covers for the coptic binding, I think if I had the
needle and thread I could sew it all together. I detest the
idea of using books, because they were not written by her. I
want to remember…. everything she said, every rule she gave me.
I remember her saying that patience was the best policy in
making a book, to never settle for anything less than
perfection.

When Jennifer Storey Macintosh
died all I could think about was what a great person this world had
lost. Then I tried to remember all the riddled stories she
told me. Then I began to think of all the things I meant to
ask her, all the things I meant to write
down.

There’s a shop in New York that sells
the best something. But I can’t remember whether it’s bone
folders or paper, and I can’t remember the name of the
shop.

She used to tell the story of a fish
that wanted to go somewhere, was tired of being in the same place
all the time, and he never realized that he was in a river. It was
something like that.

I grasp at the
straggling remnants of what I know of her. I devoured the
story told after her death, that she believed the ghost of a nun
lived in her villa, and she told the people who stayed with her
that when she died she would take the nun with her. She was
brimming with stories, all the time. She knew her craft well,
to perfection. She loved and cared for her children, the few
her husband had from a previous marriage, the “two of her own
flesh” as she said, and the several foster children. Her children
were scattered all over the world, her husband had died several
years before, but she spoke about him like he was alive still.
And though all her achievements could have been a source of
pride for her, she put it all away, would sit quietly in her chair
in the studio, and dwell on the music that filled the room.
The Hallelujah Chorus. “What a wonderful thing the human
voice is,” she said. She was kind to every one she knew.
She stretched herself to the utmost. The day before she
died, I saw how she struggled to breathe, how moving took the
greatest effort. But she exerted herself, would not go home
until every student had been helped, and she never complained.
My heart ached for her. The next day I cleaned her
studio. I washed all her brushes. Collected the
scalpels. Gathered the bone folders, threw away the scraps,
put the lids on the glues. Covered the gesso. Swept. Made sure the
leathers were in order, the papers where they were supposed to be.
Thinking how happy she would be to come in and be able to go
straight to work on the book she was making. I remember what
it looked like. She used kangaroo leather, I think, and this
sort of stain to make the stamping she used on the leather come
out. Dark brown on taupe.

More than
anything, this is a tribute to her. She taught me so much.
She discovered a natural talent in me, and was never content
to let me linger to long in one place. She pushed me to
harder projects, praised my work, suggested altercations. She
was open to my idea of designing my own cover out of multi colored
paper, reminiscent of Siena’s colors, for a book of my poems
written in Siena, which I would print out in book form. We
never did it. I lost the heart for it after her
death.

I want to start my own book arts
studio, using everything she taught me. I have my own books,
approved by her, as guides to begin. Someday quite soon this
will happen. And how many times I’ve thought of sitting down
and writing her for advice! But she has given me so much.

Image

Pigeons

I look out the window

and light stretches over the
sky

I stayed up all
night

working and
restless and

bereft

in the cold morning
wind

I see
them

pigeons
fighting

silently

onlookers impassive

the fighters peck at each
other

pick and
prod

push and balance
with half spread

wings

their bird feet

scraping the terracotta
roof

for five minutes
they bang each other up

and then stop

and sun themselves on the
warming

tiles

nobody wins

pigeons have a way about
them

even when they
fight

they are
calm

when they rest in
a line on the rooftop

in the rain

they are calm

their cooing calms me

and have you seen them
when

they
kiss

later I am at school singing at the
window

and serenade
two as they kiss

the
gentle bending of

their grey heads

giving taking

shyly

beady eyes regarding each
other

as they keep up
the smooth

dance of
head

and
neck

bending

caressing

ceasing they dance slowly about each
other

then sit on the
corners

of the
roof

and wait but
pigeons

what do you
wait for?

pigeons

give me your rest

a friend has died

and I cannot think

in the rain

standing in their line

they ruffle themselves

grey day

but shake their
heads

and preen
and flap like it’s

washing day

pigeons

soak in some rain for
me

my grief is
dry

and
sleepless

(R.J. Hopkins, November,
2012)

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