The Masters Review Blog

Aug 8

New Voices: “Knitting Verse” by Elizabeth Brinsfield

Elizabeth Brinsfield’s “Knitting Verse” is this week’s entry to our New Voices catalog! In the aftermath of her mother’s early death, the narrator of Brinsfield’s “Knitting Verse” is desperate for community, and so she turns to a farm school for her young son, where she meets a group of parents who embrace non-mainstream approaches to life, including Annette, who tells her, soon after they’ve met, that she only has a month to live. “Knitting Verse” is an exploration of our responses to trauma, the things we seek, and the ways we justify our actions, both to others and to ourselves. Dig in below.

The reasons I came to the school were not complicated. I was looking for community in a deep way as if seeking religion. At the farm school, God was mentioned, but its methodology concerned the spirituality of nature, and it worked for me how church had worked when I was eight or nine. I believed, at least for the moment, in what we were doing: educating children with rhythm, by imitation, through beauty.


The first time my son and I arrived at the farm school, the mothers and children were congregating out by a metal swing set with barber-pole stripes. Two girls, about five, rode on traditional swings with long chains, and two younger girls were swinging back and forth on a plastic glider, their gunnysack dresses blowing wildly in the air behind them. A toddler wearing canvas overalls milled about the play yard, and around him raced three bigger boys on pedal-less bikes. Everyone wore boots and appeared warm and remotely preppy in a wool sweater or down vest. A woman held a baby in the cocoon of a calico sling.

It was mud season and still snowing in the mountains, but, lower, this valley felt wet and cool in the morning. On one side were rolling foothills, and on the other a strip of cottonwoods led to a river maybe a half-mile away. The ranch-style schoolhouse was situated mid-valley next to a small farm with two cows, one horse, a few goats, and a coop of chickens.

An old friend was discussing the ability of horses to heal trauma. She wore the same flannel shirt as a few other mothers but tied it at the waist, so it looked more fashionable. I sat to the edge, watching my son. He was three and came running at me, plowing into my legs. I want a bike, he saidI leaned over and whispered, See the goats. He glanced at the pen and ran toward the swings, and I worried he’d get knocked flat—even if he recovered quickly, the sound of his wailing would stay with me for days. He lurched around, his eye on the curving bikes, the undulating swings, the other children in their winter hats, sunscreen whitening their already-pale skin.

I hitched up my maternity corduroys and heard the old friend holding forth. Horses are heart-centered. Pre-kids, this friend and I had smoked cigarettes late into the night, discussing feng shui and karma and applying these concepts to our relationships. But now that we were mothers, she applied these concepts to our children. She also resisted western medicine, finding its routine procedures unnecessary. It wasn’t surprising when she introduced me like this: Here’s SaraShe’s pro-vaccine. And the mothers in the chat circle peered down or away, or they stared right through me.

In the silence that followed, I stepped toward the teacher, who’d been in the goat shed but talked to a pallid woman on a bench nearby. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the younger woman wiped her eyes. In front of them, on a tree stump, was a speckled-enamel tea set. I bent to pour myself a miniature cup of cider.

After outside playtime, the teacher corralled the mothers and children into a circle. We held hands and sang a good morning song and stepped to the porch in single file, our arms out and hands still connecting. The children sat along a bench, and the mothers stood opposite their youngsters. My son’s lips were moving—he tried to keep up with the next verse: Here is my garden / I rake it with care / Then a few seeds / I shall plant there. The older children performed the finger play, and the younger children, captivated, mimicked the tiny movements.

Inside, we sat in assigned seats at a wooden table. The teacher gave a short puppet show with three characters: a gray woman with a broom made from twigs, a king, and a lady with long golden hair crafted from yarn. She then offered a concise weather report involving planetary alignments as well as highlights from an astrological sowing and planting calendar. We were served a dish of grains and fresh fruit—African teff with ripe avocado—and the children ate bread and brown apples—the snack must have been prepared a few hours earlier. I turned to the teacher who sat to my right, at the head of the table, and told her it was the most delicious salad I’d ever eaten. She filled my bowl again. You’re hungry.

To continue reading “Knitting Verse” click here.

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