Knitting Brown Sweaters

picture-3707I’ve knit several brown sweaters over the years. Yes, one was for my love and he continues to wear it when winter’s at its coldest, an insulated woolen armor just right for those very bitter -20 below days of January. Another was knit for a little boy, who will very soon be turning the ripe old age of 21. He quite often pesters me (his devoted mum) for another one. I’ll try and get to that this winter. Right now, I have a multi-colored brownish sweater in the makings…for me, can that be? Really? Something for me?!!! But the brown sweater that still stands out in my mind was the one being made by my young friend Sandy many years ago. She had just finished her degree in marine biology at the University Of Maine. After graduating she worked with me in the bakery and was not quite sure where her feet were going to land that summer, so she came to live with us. When she wasn’t rolling out pie dough or playing her guitar, she was working on a brown sweater intended for a boy she couldn’t get her mind off of. I’m not sure that the feelings of devotion and passion were reciprocated, but I do remember with fondness the brown sweater, Sandy’s tender heart, and her intention to win him over with skeins of soft brown wool. After a long day of turning butter and sugar into scrumptious pastries, Sandy would come home, turn on some music, open a beer, and pick up her needles. Between sporadic dates with that boy, she kept her needles clicking with hope. That boy didn’t take the bait…his loss. Sandy went on to further her education, land an important job in the field of environmental policy, and make her way in the world. She always was and she is, quite a gal. Sweater or no sweater, she’s a catch. I hope Sandy is still playing her guitar. I like to picture her playing one of her great tunes wearing a too big handknit sweater. Maybe singing a sassy song about lost love, freshly baked scones, and a summer spent with a mom and her two kids. So, in memory of brown sweaters knit with love, a poem by Kate Barnes… for Sandy.

The Brown Sweater

Knitting a sweater for your unrequiting love,
You knit hair into it twice so that whichever
way he turns, some will lie by his heart.
Black hair, fine and small, Irish hair,
hair that has its instructions, that has been programmed
to get itself wound tightly around his affections
and lead them to you like horses brought up from pasture.

I touch the sweater made of undyed wool
from brown sheep in Iceland. The soft stuff feels
as resilient as moss. I look at you busily wishing.
Your face is not screwed up with concentration;
it only deepens with the same sudden deepening
produced by the sight of a train passing under a bridge
or a falling star, each good in your mind for one wish.

In the evening you read French cookbooks
looking for something
to delight him. In the morning you tell me your dreams
about him. Every night you dream about him!
Every day – all day -you are listening for his truck.
And this has gone on for a year! How can I say:

God’s will be done, or: that man alone is happy
who makes the best of what Fates send him?
I can’t.

In the face of your longing, in the face of
your suffering need
consolation of any kind would be
an injury. You hug the sweater and stare
across the top at me with the look of the doe
I once saw plunge in the lake leaving a pack
of stray dogs yelping behind her in our hayfield.

It was still summer, though late, the water not
too cold, the dogs not too determined. She swam

bravely away, growing smaller and smaller, until
she reached the opposite shore and disappeared,
safe in the thicket.

Give me magic, give me hope!
Give me the powers of bone-deep wishes, the lucky
Omens, the white horse, the first star of the night,
the doe ten miles by land from her howling griefs,
the blue-black hair, springing from a head of dreams,
twining into a strand of brown yarn and bringing
love and luck to the wearer – without his knowledge.

Kate Barnes

12 comments on “Knitting Brown Sweaters

    • Hello Susan,
      Kate Barnes was the poet Laureate here in Maine several years ago. She lived not far from Montville, up on Appleton Ridge and I remember her driving her black horse across the ridge. her father was Henry Beston and her mother was Elizabeth Cordsworth…also fine writers. She has always been one of my favorite poets. She passed on a few years ago…..her poetry continues to delight.

    • Doesn’t seem like I have a whole lot of time for making bake goods at the moment, we’ve been too deep into vegetable preservation. Lucky if you get a piece of toast with jam at the moment. Will take “brownish” sweater with me to Ireland and hope to make some real gain then!
      Happy Fall, Judy

    • Kate Barnes a favorite of mine. That was a summer to remember, having Sandy here, my kids loving the fact that this cool, hip, guitar playing gal was living with us and wanted to spend time with them! We did have to bear witness to her heartache over the boy who couldn’t quite reciprocate, but all in all, a summer to think back on with great fondness.

        • I head to Ireland on the 4th 0f November….hopefully I can see you when you arrive and before I take off!! I hate the thought of missing you!!!I’ll try and emails you before the end of October. You can come anytime if it fits your schedule, kids coming? Johnny? Again, travels well and we’ll talk soon.
          denise

        • I leave the island on the 2nd, fly on the 3rd. Can’t believe we will miss each other!! There’s just no way I will make it in such a short window and doesn’t sound like you will be available either.

          I am travelling with the two oldest and the other four will stay home and mind the animals and all. How long will you be in Ireland? I will be back on the island on the 15th, a real flying visit!

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