Mill Girl

by Mary Ann Mayer

Sun glinting off a wooden loom.
The clanking of chains,
the clack of the flying shuttle
through the shed,
the warp and weft,
the in and out,
the whir and throstle
of looms and spinners
from first to last slant light,
across the fifteen-hour day.

The cleaning, combing, carding of cotton,
the spinning of thread,
the rustle of cloth,
the mill girl, her tongue
rolled tight against her upper lip
to keep out sweat-salt, cotton lint,
a fleck in the corner
of her mouth.

Her neck is wet and aches
as she arches,
stretches her body across
the wooden frame
to weight the loom,
to tension the threads,
she strokes the warp
combed to a sheen
as if riding a horse,
as if one with the beast,
neck lengthening
across an uncrossable field.


“Mill Girl” was previously published in Kissing the Shuttle –A Lyric History (Blackstone River Books, 2018).