Anderson O’Brien – Five Poems

Crazy Quilt

I’m not crazy.
I sit in my bed waiting
For all the little men in my head
To leave for a while,
But I’m not crazy.

They like to sit around all day long,
These men,
Just a jibberjabbering—
This ain’t good, you ain’t good.
Lord, lord when will it all stop.

So I train myself to ignore the little men
Cause I know I ain’t crazy.
I look down at the quilt before me
Tossed, haphazard on the bed.

Now that quilt—that’s crazy.
All ragtime and nonsense that quilt.
My grandmother made it
And no one ever said she wasn’t crazy.

Look at the black velvet edged
With fine gold trim. Look
At the shiny pink all a riot
With red polka dots and blue stripes
And pale yellow! And more black
Deep black, castaway black.

Where the hell is the pattern?
That’s what the men try to say
Just a little more time and not even a dime
And they talk the day away.

Oh shut up already. Let me
Just curl up with my quilt
And one good book
And fill my time with something
More than nonsense.
Because I’m not crazy. Are you?


Under the Quilt

After six months he started saying
it was time.
Carefully arranging my room,
I picked up the clothes tossed
on the chair in the corner,
shuffled together notebook paper
of homework I had yet to do.

I made my bed
like I had been taught:
Tucked in hospital corners,
laid out the quilt.
I searched for a candle
in my mother’s breakfront.

Glancing at the clock—
my parents would be home at ten—
I looked at the calendar
to mark the date.

The kissing was nice.
Our hands were awkward.
It hurt enough to remember
but not enough to cry about.

After he left
I remade the bed
so there were no creases,
smoothing out the crumpled quilt
as if everything
had never happened.


Wedding Quilt

“There’s another woman,” he told me
last night. I was in our bed,
reading, my hands clutched
at the quilt, our wedding quilt.
“What do you mean?” I asked,
as if there were no weight
or time, no such place as our bedroom,
our bed, no such thing
as our marriage, as if it were a scene
from someone else’s life.

“There’s another woman,”
he said again, and I looked down
at the quilt, white stitches
against soft white cloth.
And I thought of my husband wrapping
the quilt tightly around me, striking
a match, lighting the edge,
the fire circling up, searing
the quilt in flames, smothering
me in flames, scorching
me, white-hot. Our marriage,
tiny bits of ash.



This quilt is the best I got
and I ain’t lettin’
no soldier get it.
I’ll wrap it up
and hide it in the hay loft.
My wife made it—dead
of the consumption
three years now.
She was my pride.
Ain’t got no children
even though we tried hard.
So this quilt, well,
it’s my comfort.


The Quilters at Gee’s Bend*

Rejoice! We are no longer the hidden women
at the river’s bend. Our voices
are sharp as the needles we prick
soft as the corduroy we use
undulant as the colors we choose
rhythmic as unrhymed couplets or a new dance.
These quilts are our love songs and our stories.
No longer a Pettaway slave
or someone’s nameless mother,
we come together in our own houses
and make art with each quilting
and make history with each creation.
The whole world can now exclaim over this beauty
in the spirit of jubilation!

*The Quilters at Gee’s Bend are a group of women whose quilts are internationally known as being a major contribution to American Art History. They have exhibited at the Whitney, The National Gallery, and, a couple of years ago, some of their quilts were featured on postage stamps. They are African-Americans who are descendants of slaves from the Pettaway Plantation in Gee’s Bend Alabama.