it’s complicated

I’ve posted this poem before, but this time I have a photo to go with it.

bobbin lace close up


You sit, bent over the pillow;

beaded memories

click back and forth.

Deftly, you weave silk threads:

over, under, twist and hitch;

under, over, pin and twist.

Beneath your fingers

a brass forest grows

shrouded in gossamer.

(In the photo, the forest is silver rather than brass, but I think it still illustrates the point.)

Apparently, I’ve also used the post title “it’s complicated” before. Looking back, I find that that was a post about acorns and oak trees and the confusion for an English-speaker trying to talk about such things in Spanish. I concluded that we might all be better off speaking Latin.

This time, I chose the title because Spaniards use the phrase hacer encaje de bolillos – to make bobbin lace – to refer to any complex, delicate or painstaking task. It came as a surprise when I first heard the expression: I knew a little about bobbin lace, but hadn’t imagined it would be such a familiar concept in Spain.

I suppose that if El Quixote is compulsory reading in school, Spanish children must come across the scene with his impertinent niece –

una rapaza, que apenas sabe menear doce palillos de randas

– a young hussy who can scarcely handle a dozen lace-bobbins.

But palillos de randas doesn’t seem to connect in any very obvious way to encaje de bolillos, so it seems that there must be some knowledge of the craft if the expression is still used in conversation today.

Shakespeare also alludes to lace making more than once. I read – and supposedly studied – Twelfth Night in school, and have seen the play a number of times but can’t remember ever coming across these lines until this morning when I went looking for information online for this post:

The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones

Perhaps if I’d known that Cervantes and the Bard had already said their piece about lace-making, I wouldn’t have bothered to try and write the poem in the first place.

English lace bobbin spangles

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

5 thoughts on “it’s complicated”

  1. Si la expresión ‘hacer encaje de bolillos’ resulta encomiástica, al referirse metafóricamente a hacer algo complicado y de mucho mérito, tenemos otra los ‘Spaniards’, también relacionada con las habilidades que se requieren para la costura, que podíamos situar en el otro extremo.
    Cuando queremos deshacernos de alguien molesto, o directamente insoportable, que no nos deja en paz, si se nos acaba la paciencia, lo mandamos ‘a hacer puñetas’. (Cierto que hay también otras opciones algo más bruscas)
    Estas ‘puñetas’ eran los puños que llevaban los jueces y altos magistrados en las bocamangas de las togas. Estaban hechos de un delicado -y supongo que laboriosísimo- trabajo de encaje.
    La pena es que cuando mandamos a alguien a hacerlas, no nos haga caso. Nos dejaría tranquilos y, sobre todo estaría más entretenido, tendría, por fin, algo que hacer.


      1. O de aquellas personas que no hacen nada que no tenga alguna intención o finalidad, aquellas que ‘no dan ninguna puntada sin hilo’.


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