When I was a little girl, my mother taught me to crochet, a skill she had learned from her own mother. I learned how to hold the hook, to make a chain, to do simple stitches such as single and double crochet. I learned how to increase and decrease stitches, to follow a pattern in a book, to make an afghan from squares, to create my own designs.

Crochet is a simple form of knotting using a hook and yarn or cotton thread. Its history is shadowy. French, Belgians, Italians and Spanish-speaking people all call it “crochet.” But in Holland it is “haken,” in Denmark “haekling,” in Norway “”hekling,” and in Sweden “virkning.” Some trace it back to a form of embroidery called “tambour.” Or to Guiana Indians. Or a tribe in South America where it was used to make adornments for rites of puberty. Or to China where they used it to make dolls.

Whatever the use, it has always had one, most markedly in Ireland during the famine of the mid-19th century when the sale of crocheted goods helped some survive and even put aside enough for passage to America.

Craft skills are sometimes passed down from generation to generation, but not always. Often someone will feel a calling for a specific skill. A person who yearns to be a blacksmith feels the smoke of the forge in her blood. A baker chooses to learn because the smell of bread in the oven inhabits her dreams. Crafts have their own tools and language and take time and a commitment to learn, so the desire must be strong.

Pysanky are elaborately decorated Ukrainian eggs. Though Karin Spitfire’s paternal grandparents are from the Ukraine, she didn’t learn to do pysanky from her grandmother. “She had some in a bowl in her house and I was mesmerized by them,” Karin says.

“I learned, but from Lesia Sochor, here in town, and took to it like a duck to water.” The poem follows the actual process and the beliefs associated with the craft. This poem was first published in a journal called “Kerf,” and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Karin was poet laureate of Belfast from 2007 to 2008. She is a multimedia artist, including stage performances, collaborative community happenings, poetry, letterpress art and artists books. This poem is from her latest poetry collection, “The Body in Late Stage Capitalism,” which was published in December and is available at local independent bookstores or online at shermans.com.

What Is To Be Offered

Ukrainian women

decorate eggs

at a certain time of year: late winter

at a specific time of day: night

 

We have made dyes,

recipes secreted mother to daughter

from onion skin, lichen,

woad, and buckwheat husks

collected and strained beeswax

and after the chores and children are put to bed.

 

A good clean egg is chosen

and a design—

eight-sides rose pattern—

with a border of sieves to sort impurities,

a long life of meanders perhaps

wolves’ teeth for loyalty, wisdom and a firm grip.

 

Each mark

heating of the kistka

in the candle, a dip in the wax

a line of the egg.

 

By the end, it is nearly

black with wax,

memory of the design obscured

perfection surrendered.

 

The egg has sat in yellow

been daubed with green

it lingered in red, purple,

in black.

 

Before the Ukrainians

Neolithic Trypillains had only

brown, brick red and black,

the designs, fish for its sacred self

or a yin/yang divided

almost beyond recognition.

We make eggs for our men,

for newlyweds, crops, goats

a boost

in the rugged physical world.

 

We do this every year,

millions of eggs, holding strong

the chains shackling evil

to the mountain.

 

I remember:

form comes out of a dark place,

tools surround us,

I make the choice

with my hands.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.

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