Listening for Her Loom

My hand is starting to cramp from slinging the black yarn through the thin warp of the loom. I don’t know how many hours I’ve sat here, but one gray skein and one ball of red yarn later, my left eye is finally starting to twitch. I push the wooden batten above the lined yarn and blanket the loom with a white sheet for the rest of the night. I rest my comb atop the wooly hanks of black, grey, red, and white yarn that sit at the base of the loom in the same wooden basket that my great grandma used to hold all of her weaving combs. That’s always been the established weaving routine for me, my mom, my grandma, and great grandma.

My childhood companions lay within my grandmother’s loom, carding paddles, spindle, and yarn. I’ve watched her weave countless masterpieces of rugs—always in awe of her artistry and skill. From the safe haven of my great-grandparents’ hogan in Sweetwater to the packed NHA house neighborhood, the soft sound of her weaving comb rhythmically striking the loom was like music to my ears throughout my adolescence and young adult life. I was nearly 20 years old when I heard the echoing silence of my great-grandmother’s absence for the first time in my life.

Her absence left an empty void in my life despite being given her weaving combs, spindle, and battens. It seemed the longer I sat in her room and looked at her deconstructed loom leaned against her empty bed, the more my vision blurred with an unbearable longing for her. Over the years, her possessions slowly slipped out of my hands and with them took my desire to continue weaving. I held onto her spindle, two battens, and weaving comb once more, before I put them away for the next three years.

I don’t recall much of those three years, the world seemed to move on, meanwhile I begged for it to stop. For the first time, I had felt myself losing a sense of belonging within the world, my family, and myself. It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2019 that I was clearing out my room and found her things. In those three years I had mourned and grieved for her so much that finding remnants of her seemed to be the last bandage to heal the wound.

I sat there—in front of the aged wooden frame and stared into the empty thread spaces finally whole and present again. I could feel every single thing in my life that had slowly detached, reconnect again. I traced my fingers up and down the warp and across the frame, remembering her stories. I’m a fourth generation Diné weaver and everything I do in my life centers around these notions that weaving has taught me—much like our weaving routine, understand that everything in our life is cyclic.

Alyssa Nakai is a student at Navajo Technical University.

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