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I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery    by Cynthia Grady & Michele Wood order for
I Lay My Stitches Down
by Cynthia Grady
Order:  USA  Can
Eerdmans, 2011 (2011)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

I adore this book! In my mind's eye I imagine a child walking around holding this oversized, hardcover wonder. The colors of Michele Wood's illustrations, done in acrylic on canvas, are bold and deep with dynamic figures and powerful expressions. They are synchronized with the keen poetry form of Cynthia Grady.

In her opening page, Cynthia Grady advises: 'Quiltmaking and poetry share similarities in craft. In one, color and shape are organized into an overall pattern; in the other, sound and structure create the pattern.' The poems are scripted in 'unrhymed verse, ten lines of ten syllables, to mimic the square shape of a quilt block'.

The left pages have a title, followed by a poem, with a strip of quilt pattern in the center, and historical notes below. Cynthia Grady's poems include Underground Railroad, Cotton Boll, and the hauntingly profound Tree of Life (Michelle Woods' interpretation in dark, somber color reveals a black man tied to a post with sketched lines on his back).

Under Rail Fence, Grady writes: 'White man's devil trots on a horse's hoof. / The stallion rears, then bucks, whinnies, stomps, and/snorts. Runs in cock-eyed circles to draw my / rage. But I know horses ... I catch the light of fear / in his eyes. Smooth my right hand 'cross his chest. ... In moments we're walking / the same path, leading, being led, from dis- / cord into harmony, within this fenced / paradise, this patchwork field of freedom.' The author tells us: 'In the early days of horse racing in the South, the horses were groomed, exercised, trained, and raced by slaves. Africans and African Americans dominated the sport until the late 1800's.'

That child toting I Lay My Stitches Down will approach whoever is at hand, hand the book over, climb up on the couch, and wait to be read to. Of course, if the child is in the targeted audience of age ten and up, he/she will read out loud or softly to themselves, enjoying the cadence of words, while gazing back and forth at the right-page illustrations and pondering the meaning of Americans living in slavery.

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