Author’s Note: When I saw that this month’s theme would be clothing, I that doubted that would work for me. Here in the Berkshires, our idea of sartorial splendor is a pair of Birkenstocks and a Melville Slept Here tee-shirt (his former house, Arrowhead, is a short drive from us). Still, I looked to see if I had anything that might fit, something that would wear well, that you could hang your hat on. I didn’t find anything, so these will have to do.
The Shirt So Nice I Bought It Twice
I bought a shirt I liked, long-sleeved button down
cotton blend, blue and white stripes, comfortable
for my casual teaching look. How happy I was
when its turn came around again.
So I bought another. Quite by accident, though;
I was looking through a catalog and I thought
“Hey, that’s a nice shirt,” and when it came
I pulled out all the pins and cardboard, went
to hang it in my closet. The same shirt,
but I mean exactly. Not an iota’s difference.
Ah well, nobody need know.
But then they started hanging out, and like twins
do, they made up a secret language of their own,
a kind of rustling the other shirts didn’t understand.
I wouldn't say there was dissention in the ranks,
but oh, they were close, too close. They began
snickering at me when my back was turned,
colluding even – slipping out of my pants in the back,
where I couldn't see, unbuttoning to reveal
my hairy chest. I tried to reason with them,
but they would just look sheepish and go right on
whispering or chattering in that made-up lingo,
recalcitrant as teenagers, though they were only
toddlers, even in shirt years. This grew, I gave
commands, but nothing changed. I threatened
them with the rag pile, but they knew I’d be loath
to lose the fifty bucks they cost me.
Frankly, it was a nightmare.
Their turns would come up, and I’d stand
by the closet, almost shaking with stress,
chewing on Tums, thinking about staying in my pj’s,
calling in sick. And then one day they were silent,
limp on their hangers. They stayed buttoned
and neatly tucked in, as if their souls had risen
in the night, leaving them tractable and meek.
My white and western shirts hung self-satisfied
and smug, a whiff of violence on their pleats and cuffs.
(Sigh. It’s true; I actually bought the exact same shirt twice. Not on purpose. My wife chuckles every time I wear it. Them. Whatever.)
My Father’s Clothes
“Can you wear any of these,”
my mother asked as though
I would want my father’s clothes
that hung, at the end, so loose
on his shrunken frame.
They were “too good to throw out.”
She never threw out anything
so they dangled in his closet,
each shirt and coat wrapped
around his vacant shape as if
waiting for some miracle return,
wind blowing as a trumpet
for the opening of sky, a ladder
made of cobwebs hung from stars.
He’d have hesitated though
in his dressing gown, trusting more
to steel and stone and brick
than any test of faith, no matter
how mythic or magical or tongue-in-cheek.
(First appeared in my book Family Reunion, published by Big Table)
In her eyes, a hundred crows, horizon blackened
with their wings. Around her the city has gone
quiet; even juddering jackhammers
are still. Crows crowd out little circles of sky.
Then sound floods back. Cars rush up the avenue,
and everywhere the creak and screech of birds.
She is pinned to rippling windows, flung
into sidewalk rivulets, her body grown light
as mist. Around her, faces drift, water
in a wind-swept pond. Everything, she recalls,
is mostly space. All edges blur, joining the flow
of an endless parade. Holes appear in the afternoon,
some fabric rent or ripped away, the magician,
now in street clothes, grinning among his machines.
© 2018 Steve Klepetar
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