Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mr. Green's Shirt

Here is a poem vaguely in keeping with the celebratory mood over the Massachusetts Supreme Court Decision yesterday.

Father’s Day (Mr. Green’s Shirt)
I must have been a teenager almost
college bound when Mr. Green died

With the generosity that grief bestows
(don’t get me wrong, avarice erupts as well)
Mrs. Green packed up his clothes and divided them
among those who were his size

My father and Mr. Green had been friends
in that way of men who discover each other in one place
despite the distance that separates them at birth

They would go fishing together in winter
on the ice
I imagine hip pocket flasks and
hands carefully warmed over the Coleman stove

Smoking had killed him
and years of lamp black and asbestos
dust while making tires

I don’t remember which garments my father decided to keep
somehow I ended up with the wool plaid shirt

It caressed my angled leanness extending
a little below my wrist (I had my father’s build)
nothing ever fitted me so well

I was not allowed to wear my father’s clothes settling for
folding his laundry inspecting his sock drawer trying on the signet
ring when no one else was home

I never lusted after Mother’s skirts and girdles and underwire bras
my most fervent wish was to escape from her hair grease
the demands for a more formal straightness

None of the clothes had been dry cleaned before the dispersal
the shirt a plaid and light weight wool
released the scent of unfiltered
cigarettes when I caressed
its cranberry and gray squares
there was a used condom rumpled deep
in its breast pocket ((cont’d next page))

I imagined Mr. Green elegant in his wool shirt
and my father indifferent to clothing
In nondescript polyester flannel
fishing for women at some bar
on Charles Street

I wore that shirt until my sharp
limbs rubbed the elbows thin as tissue
then I patched them

I wore it on the streets of Cincinnati
when the brothas hanging in the summer
called me bull dagger
I didn’t know what that meant but

This I knew
in my shirt and army surplus
coat wool watch cap and clunky
leather Frye hiking boots
I could walk the crumbling abandoned
streets of my new home safe powerful
perfectly anonymous

My father never wanted a daughter and he didn’t like
his step-son I tried to be a reasonable substitute
he got more than he bargained for perhaps
but I got Mr. Green’s shirt.

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