Swallow Brand

Sunlight through drapes, swirls on the fifty-year old
sewing machine and your waterfall hair.
With needle threads and scissor snips, your steadfast
hum rhymes with the device’s whir and click.

Our youth was dressed in hand-me-downs. Each cherished
garment held a braided story beneath your skilled revision.
Labeled a rightist, rendered jobless in a single stroke—
You stitched on, line by line, pattern by pattern.

In times of rationing, the bobbin wove carbage
into vibrant shorts and skirts resonating our forms.
You joined a sewing group to craft shoe uppers,
pillowcases, and bags for fifteen yuan monthly—

Pocket money for our beloved Sunday hawthorn popsicles.
We pooled coins to claim a single ice milk—my brother
savored half, then turned it to sister’s lip—once it melted to the ground.
My sister wept for hours, and your lip quivered.

Today, you nestle beside the hard-earned heirloom
tailoring fabric to your diminished silhouette.
Your veined hand caresses the engraved name—Yan Pai
Swallow Brand—Mother, your fingers fly.





Xiaoly Li is a recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Grant (2022). Her poetry collection, Every Single Bird Rising (FutureCycle Press, April 2023), was a Zone 3 Press Book Award finalist. Her poetry is forthcoming, featured, or anthologized in Salamander, Saranac Review, Spillway, Rhino, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for Best New Poets, three times for a Pushcart Prize, and four times for Best of the Net. For additional infoormation, visit: xiaolyli.art.

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