On Tangled Chains

A favorite gold chain lies tangled in my jewelry box; I avoid it because it makes me feel sad, frustrated, and incompetent.

Slender chains always get tangled, of course. Most of the time one can simply very gently shake them out and be ready to go. Sometimes, a bit more finesse is needed; one must work a loose knot with the fingers until the chain slips out of itself and straightens. Then there are the tangles that require a flat surface and a pin or needle to create and hold open space, carefully pushing and tugging the links out of disorder.

Up to this point I can almost always manage. But there is one level worse, with the knots so many and so tightly drawn in on themselves that no amount of working at them seems to open space for the chain to correct itself. If one knot begins to come undone, another creates itself at the very moment that success seems imminent.

I spent this afternoon re-reading and working at my mockingbird and leaves pieces. I gave up in frustration and allowed my mind to wander; almost at once, I found it on that tangled chain.

When I began each piece, I was following Atkins’ concept of taking a line out for a walk. When I finished the draft of “On Leaves,” I saw immediately that it was connected, somehow, to “Mockingbird.” I started searching for the connections, and good friends helped me find many.

And I’ve been thinking of those connections as separate lines – separate chains – tangled together and needing to be pulled apart and made into some kind of multi-string and multi-colored necklace, each strand looping back to the clasp that connects it to the rest.

But perhaps that’s not the case. Perhaps it is really just one chain, tangled into tight, frustrating knots that need to be teased open so the links can straighten themselves into their continuous whole, one line I need to gently shake and tug and pick apart until it’s ready to hold a pendant clasped around the reader’s neck.

And maybe I can do it, if I don’t despair, if I refuse to feel sad and frustrated and incompetent, and just keep taking it out and patiently working at it, one knot at a time.

And maybe if I can get some time to focus . . .


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