Back to Issue Forty-Five

Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread in Athens)



after the dyed wool sculpture by Cecilia Vicuña


the story of red thread is a long one—you can stand in the middle of it and not see either end—


in the red thread is a story of women—the minute you enter, blood overwhelms you—in the clots, a message—


a quipu is an Incan recording device—knots like words arranged on a string—a poem in space—an account of tying one day to the next—


the quipu, Vicuña says, must have been a female invention


it was Mama Ocllo who rose from the water and taught Incan women to weave—


and Clotho was the Greek Fate who birthed the world from her spindle—


you knit me together in my mother’s womb—knit and soaked me in her blood—


when Vicuña showed Quipu Menstrual, the thick red floes of wool offended some, and the curators asked her to thin it out, so she made an exhibit of the trimming—


Hester Prynne was a talented seamstress—she wove trails of gold into her scarlet letter, fashioning the sin—


there is a Chinese legend that says a red thread ties you to someone fate wants you to need—slack and taut—chained ankles or pulled pinkies—


the knot between you can be anything—the rock bound to hit a girl in the head, flung from her future husband’s hand—or something simpler: cancer, school, hard-headedness—


in her parents’ backseat, A and i hooked pinkies—what rushes up the arm into the chest? blood in the ulnar artery, red filtered into blue beneath the skin—


later, she wrapped a red silk scarf around my wrist to cover the scabs—three red lines stacked like a tally on top of the rest, pink and gummy—you shouldn’t do this, she said—


when the guillotine days were done, French aristocrats wore red ribbons around their necks, posh wounds or bratty invitations—in junior high i wore chokers but never made the connection—


is a red dress still red when there is no one to look at it? (Goethe)


before i had cancer, i wasn’t afraid of blood—in the hospital, needles pulled threads from my arm all night—one surgery left a scar across my throat like a white garroting wire—


i have a picture of a twelve-year-old girl from my hometown whose throat was slit by her boyfriend—in the picture, she’s wearing a lacy black choker necklace—


time doesn’t loop, it knots—once the Fates had spun your plot, no god could unravel it—


in Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” the monster gives his bride a ruby necklace two inches wide—a collar to lead her into marriage, into exile—


if it’s red can it not suggest blood?


Carter quotes Baudelaire: “there is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer,” opined my husband’s favourite poet—


Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of red yarn and it led him to murder—


Pinochet’s Caravan of Death led Vicuña into exile, nearly fifty years now—


conquistadors were noted sadists—the Pizarro brothers kidnapped and raped the Incan queen Cura Ocllo, then had her tied to a stake, stoned, and shot with arrows—


they floated her corpse home down the Urubamba river—a win for the Church and the Spanish throne—


flowing into the Urubamba further down is the Palquella Pucamayu—a red river, full of sandstone and iron—


the girl from my town whose throat was slit died in a river that passes behind her home—six miles from her house to her death, but the river only flows in one direction—


red clouds over the Chilean sea, red song of sirens in the Aegean—


those studies on period synching were faked, but we all know it happens—ask nuns or lesbians—our bodies keep time in red rivulets—


but the quipu remembers nothing, for weaving is passed through the memory of the hands—


through Vicuña’s at four, knitting miniature sweaters in unknown ceremony—


the story of the red thread in Athens is the story of the red thread in Cusco—through hands in the Andes, through hands in Greece—


my mother’s hands braiding my hair at night as i read her goddess books—


through stories of Pachamama and stories of Gaia, the clay we’re made from—


i learned Earth has life because of its oceans—Gaia and Hydros, who together made Chronos—


time is born where water meets land—and this is where the story begins—

Rochelle Hurt is a poet and essayist. She is the author of three poetry collections: The J Girls: A Reality Show (Indiana University Press, 2022), which won the Blue Light Books Prize from Indiana Review; In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Poetry Prize; and The Rusted City: A Novel in Poems (White Pine, 2014). Her work has been included in Poetry magazine and the Best New Poets anthology. She lives in Orlando and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Florida.

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