My Sewing Machine by Opal Palmer Adisa


as long as i can remember

i’ve always stitched cloth into

the dreams people manage


after the earthquake

hopelessness captured me

like a body-bag

husband missing

but my machine survived


people bring cloth

my fingers stitch scraps

into newness

I’ve been sewing since I was nine years old, maybe even younger.  I stopped school to help mama when Daddy left the six of us.He never came back.  Mama apprenticed me to a woman who sewed. I lived with that woman, Madam Bertin, who had me sewing until my fingers bled. But she taught me the trade well enough to support myself ever since.

The sewing machine was the only possession to survive the earthquake and the only marker of where our house was.  I guess I was meant to sew. I love this machine as much as my life.  Living in a camp, in a tent with Gaelle, my daughter and her husband and my grandchild, this machine buys us food and other things.  No matter how hard times are, Haitian people like to look good.  They will provide clothes for their children.  They will want a piece of cloth stitched with colorful threads to spread over a box that they use as a table.

My childhood was hard, carrying water every morning and evening with the other children. Walking barefoot and cutting my soles on broken bottles or tin cans. Mama was kind.  She was tired and even now when I close my eyes I see her sad eyes.  She died before I was fifteen.  We didn’t have money to take her to the doctor.  She became sick just sudden, burning up with fever, vomiting. I spooned sugar water into her mouth as she rested her head in my lap.  Two days later she died, as I sat on my haunches.  I don’t like to think about that but I remember just before she turned her head she looked at me and smiled.  She smiled big then closed her eyes for good.

I want to sew my way out of this camp.  I don’t want anything for myself, but I want a house for my grandchild. My husband and daughter always tended a little garden before the earthquake.  I want to find my husband’s body and give him a proper funeral.  He was a good man.  We loved each other.

I want my granddaughter to go to university.  My daughter, she went all the way to high school.  My husband and I worked hard to make sure of that.  I sewed and fell asleep at this same machine, and even stitched my finger.  That’s what I want for my granddaughter to go to university and for us to have a house of our own again.

I want to see Haiti have a chance.  There are some bad people here, but most of us are good and hard workers.  We deserve a chance.  I want the world to know we deserve a chance.  We are a good people. My granddaughter deserves a home.  

Yveline is a woman in her mid fifties.  She has been a seamstress all her life.  She doesn’t remember where she was when the earthquake happened, but she is glad she is alive, as well as her daughter, her daughter’s husband and their child, her only grandchild.  She has not seen or heard from her husband of thirty years since the earthquake, and although she suspects that he is dead, she remains hopeful.


Opal Adisa Palmer

Opal Adisa Palmer

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2 Responses to “My Sewing Machine by Opal Palmer Adisa” Subscribe

  1. Hazelin Williams May 1, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    This is such a touching story; one that depicts patience and undying love – a story that is filled with both immense sorrow as well as hope. There are so many lessons in this. For one, even though there is the implication that the woman who taught her to sew, clearly overworked her, she also unwittingly taught her to stick with the chore at hand. Ultimately, through the discomfort, she managed to hone a useful skill, one that would become her bread and butter, so to speak. In addition to that, we learn that sometimes even the most seemingly mundane object, in this case, a sewing machine, can provide self-sufficiency and a deep sense of pride to someone who has very few options for progress.

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