When Othello gives his mother’s handkerchief
embroidered with delicate wild strawberries,
Desdemona understands she’s to care
for the linen as carefully as for his love.
When she tucks it in her sleeve, I want to shout
Don’t put it there! It’ll fall, you’ll lose it!
Emilia will retrieve it for Iago, who will pass it
to Cassio, and the trap is set.
When I was a girl and we moved away,
thirty women in the sewing circle gave Mother
handkerchiefs. For years each time she sipped soup
or stooped to clean, her nose would run. She’d slip
a hand inside her bra and retrieve a pretty hanky.
When Mother died, I looked through her stack
of handkerchiefs, chose ones for granddaughters,
great granddaughters, and several for me.
Now lace edges have holes, pansies have dissolved
and yet when I hold the one with threadbare strawberries,
I think of all the lives destined to be lost as Desdemona drops
her linen center stage somewhere in the world.