Ravel: An Etymology

The verb ravel dates back to the 1580s.

It means “to tangle.” To become confused.
It also means “to untangle.” “To unravel”.
To unwind yourself like a ball of yarn rolling
off the couch and across the kitchen rug.

The contradiction originates in the
Dutch practices of weaving and sewing.
When a thread frays, it ravels, creating
knots too tight to be undone.

My Mémère was a seamstress.
She worked as a finish-stitcher for JF McElwain,
making hundreds of shoes every day.

At 91, she became a defunct
sewing machine. Raveled back to her childhood.
Tried to collect the tattered threads of her language.

The doctor said she had knots in her brain.

Do you remember third grade, the Chinese
finger trap that wouldn’t let go no matter how
hard you tugged? Do you remember the metal
of your parents’ car when it folded into
itself on the highway? Or the ficus outside
your window that strangled the maple tree?

Do you remember your daughter’s smile
before you left for work this morning?
How did the teeth of the VCR look when
it ate her favorite movie for breakfast?

One day, you will emerge from your loom,
a crippled silkworm stumbling towards
wholeness. You will not realize that you’ve
spun yourself a web. That your body knows
parts of itself it couldn’t have named.

There is no core to this sickness.
You have all the thread you need.

—Matthew Richards