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

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

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

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

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.



I look out the window

and light stretches over the

I stayed up all

working and
restless and


in the cold morning

I see



onlookers impassive

the fighters peck at each

pick and

push and balance
with half spread


their bird feet

scraping the terracotta

for five minutes
they bang each other up

and then stop

and sun themselves on the


nobody wins

pigeons have a way about

even when they

they are

when they rest in
a line on the rooftop

in the rain

they are calm

their cooing calms me

and have you seen them


later I am at school singing at the

and serenade
two as they kiss

gentle bending of

their grey heads

giving taking


beady eyes regarding each

as they keep up
the smooth

dance of




ceasing they dance slowly about each

then sit on the

of the

and wait but

what do you
wait for?


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

and preen
and flap like it’s

washing day


soak in some rain for

my grief is


(R.J. Hopkins, November,

One thought on “Holding On To The Frays

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