Poetry October 1996

India Cotton Shirt

audioear picture Hear Erica Funkhouser read this poem (in RealAudio).

She saw it in a secondhand shop,
another woman's shirt given away
in a fury of forgetting
or refusing the imperfect fit,
and she wanted it
because of the man she imagined
taking it off of her.

They would argue a little,
one of a good love's
better arguments:
who gets to perform the small favor
that will bring both of them pleasure?
This time, he'd win;
she could already see
his flickering hands.

White embroidered on white,
the threads pulled through by a needle
so fine it left no tracks.
A geometric design,
none of the limitations
of resemblance.

Every white blouse
is an expression of faith,
the immaculate clothing in which
one may regard oneself
with a little arrogance,
a little vanity.
One has finally got old enough
to see through one's own flaws.

She knew what was wrong with her;
she knew her gifts.
She tried the shirt on, not for size
but for texture.
Was it interesting enough
to come between her
and this new love who had come to her
when she had almost forgotten the unexpected
might take the shape of a man?

She could see him loosening the shirt
as he loosened his own.
Now his, now hers.
The gathered cuffs scalloped and roomy;
the delicate shell buttons
set out in threes, the button loops
softened by use.

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