The Shirt Poem
I. To my Dog
I cleaned out my closets today
and filled the backseat of my car
with boxes overflowing with shoes and jeans
and sweaters destined for others.
My apologies to my doggy —
there’s no room now
to take you for a ride.
II. To my Sisters
I said goodbye to a rainbow striped sweater
I tried to get rid of so many times before
Stretched, worn, at the bottom of the drawer
I never wore it.
Yet, my sisters both had the same sweater
and whenever I came close to giving it away
I felt like I was giving them away, too.
Until Jessica gave me a box of clothes
she didn’t want anymore, her rainbow
sweater lying at the bottom. It was
all I needed to finally say goodbye to
that sweater and the memory of standing
next to Krystl outside my dorm room,
matching, smiling, even though I
knew our matching smiles matching shirts
were just a facade to hide
the growing realization that we
were really not the same at all.
It was the scariest realization of my life.
The photo remains but the sweater and fear
are finally gone.
III. To my Mom
I kept the green sweater with gray leggings
because they all wanted me to wear it
that Christmas: “It’s so cute, and you’re
the only one thin enough for it.”
This is how I’ve acquired most of
my clothes. I’m 29 but my mom
still loves to dress me up like a doll,
not so very different from when I was
in second grade and would come
downstairs to find my clothes laid out
on my chair in the kitchen
(and perhaps that’s why to this day I
have no trouble stripping down
in the middle of kitchens.)
And I remember the morning
she laid out a Rainbow Brite shirt
with real yarn for Rainbow’s ponytail,
and I looked at it and thought,
“I don’t think I can wear this anymore.”
I was getting just too old at 8
and already it felt like a betrayal.
So when I was 21
I bought another Rainbow Brite
shirt — it’s still there, it made the cut and
wearing it is just fine.
IV. To my Love
I kept the sweater I wore on our first date
(and other first dates, too)
because I thought it made my lips
look kissable, even though I was quite
forthright about how I never kiss
on first dates. You were not an
exception. Not yet.
I kept the sweater from our second date
The nerdy one, the one I wore partly because
I thought nerdy might go over well with you
and partly because it didn’t make me look all that pretty
and I didn’t need you all that bad.
I almost said goodbye to the sweater from our third date
because I almost didn’t wear it that day at all.
Blue, plain, past its prime
but it was clean and at least
it made my eyes look bluer.
But that was the night you passed my test
and the night that I knew so little about you
but that I somehow still knew enough
to say yes.
And when you stood in my kitchen
at 1 o’clock in the morning,
you said, “I want to kiss you,”
and then, “You look great,”
and then, “I want to kiss you again.”
And all the while, I was coaching myself:
don’t pull away, just let yourself feel it.
Later, you told me that you tripped over
yourself on the way out to your car
because you were so happy that night.
And I woke up in the dark
for once my insides spinning with
instead of panic.
Now I press the shirt to my lips,
because you aren’t here.
My mom drapes clothes around me
as if I’m a mannequin.
But you and this shirt
transformed me that January night
into something else, someone warm,
and worth kissing.
This doesn’t feel quite done yet, but it’s almost midnight and I need to go to bed. I didn’t get the various paperjournal poems pulled together and revised and compiled today as I intended to do, but I sent a proposal to a publisher, cleaned my house, did some work, updated my book reviews, and of course, cleaned out my closet, so I’m still feeling pretty pleased with myself.