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Photo by Clara Silverstein

Making a Mask with

My Mother's Sewing Kit 

by Clara Silverstein

She left a needle already threaded

with black for a quick fix

of a rip, and a felt cushion


shaped like a heart, stuck with pins,

spools to match the only colors

she wore: navy, cream, plum.


I use her gold scissors to cut up

my t-shirt from a festival of twanging

music she never listened to,


stitch a rectangle to stifle

my breath. I follow the rules,

flatten the curve she escaped


which threatens to undo me.

She used to fit together

hems and seams, practical


and prepared, each stitch tallying

what I owed her, which could never

be enough. The mask hides the narrow


lips I inherited, the ones she kept

clamped. I try on the thimble, inhale

its brass smell. It won’t protect me.

Clara Silverstein is the Boston-based author of the historical novel Secrets in a House Divided, the memoir White Girl: A Story of School Desegregation and three cookbooks. Her work has appeared in American Heritage, Southern Cultures, Blackbird, the Boston Globe, and at Boston City Hall. The former program director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, she has taught at Grub Street Writers and was a longtime member of the Workshop for Publishing Poets. 

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