SHIRTS

When I asked you to leave
I hadn’t realized this meant
you would take your shirts,
shirts I have lived with for years,
they had become somehow mine,
the shirt your mother criticized
the laundry over,
for leaving the collar soiled,
and this years before the commercial
and my coming into my own with laundry.
That was the shirt with the thin,
blue lines that matched your eyes.
The summer we met you had
a favorite red striped shirt,
you wore it almost every day
and I liked that sort of loyalty.
The one I bought to replace it
didn’t work,
as replacements never do.
When I asked you to leave
I hadn’t realized this meant
you would take your shirts.

Shirts I have lived with for years,
shirts I have washed on the normal setting
because I did not like the concept of synthetic,
shirts I have ironed with my General Electric
Shot of Steam ’til they were crisp
and smooth to touch,
shirts I have slipped on after making love,
smelling of Right Guard and darker hair,
and other subtleties I didn’t know
how to appreciate,
shirts I have buttoned and unbuttoned,
shirts I have cried on and hugged,
shirts I have clung to
and ripped up for rags,
shirts I have mended and loved,
the short sleeved shirt you wore
to float down the river,
the shirts you grew up to
when you wore a business suit and tie.

I always wanted to dress you in blue,
learning your neck size,
the length of your arms,
shopping for you because you never would,
shirts imported from England,
dark blue Madras from India,
embroidered shirts from Pakistan,
shirts with button down collars,
shirts that open down the front
with no collars at all.
You tell me I always gave you
the best shirts,
you haven’t had a good one in years.
I was very wrapped up in your shirts.
When I asked you to leave I hadn’t realized
you would take them with you.

Today another man is leaving.
Once again I have overlooked
the implications,
the loud rustle of shirts on hangers
walking out the door,
breaking my heart harder than ever,
realizing the importance,
the necessity of shirts,
these shirts I have fought with,
refusing to wash and iron them,
and he too was a man loyal to his shirts,
wearing them way past their time,
shirts I have folded and put on the chair,
not letting them into my closet,
now the closet is almost unperturbed
but how empty the chair is
from this terrible loss
of shirts to hold,
and only last week
when everything else was gone,
I mended his button
and washed and ironed his shirt,
this red shirt I bought for St. Valentine’s,
breaking my heart with its loud sound
walking out the door.

You come to see me,
I tell you once again
shirts have left my life.
You are wearing a blue t shirt
with a pocket over your heart.
I cry, not telling you
how I wanted to call
when the shirts walked out the door,
how much I needed a safe old shirt
when it started to hurt,
hearing the sound of shirts leaving.
I wipe my eyes on the shirttail
of the work shirt I have gotten
from the man who has just left
with his shirts.

I have always liked inheriting your shirts,
the new ones I buy never work.
I like the old ones I get from you,
all broken in and full of life,
your favorite one I rescued
after you used it to wash the car,
the green Western shirt
you threw away because it ripped,
the pink one I bought too small,
telling you I should have it,
you didn’t look good in pink.
I see how I have tricked myself,
sneaking your shirts back in.
I feel like I should bury them,
erect a monument in the back yard
to your shirts,
but this is hard to do,
this final severing with shirts.

I need to sing a song to shirts,
shirts made of velour
with elk horn buttons from Montana,
shirts opened down the front,
shirts worn with the sleeves rolled up,
shirts made of cotton,
shirts made of silk,
shirts that men work in and are loyal to,
shirts that men wear to play like little boys,
shirts that mothers send all wrong
because they never know their sons as men,
shirts from Salvation Army,
Sak’s and Saba’s Western Store,
shirts with gold braid and flashy buttons,
shirts made of khaki, or corduroy or flannel,
shirts that are sheer,
shirts that are strong,
shirts that women care for
as a high act of love,
shirts from India, Korea and Pakistan,
shirts that make long journeys
to find the right man,
shirts you can see through,
shirts that are soft to touch,
shirts that smell and taste
of the man you know,
shirts that come home to you at night
and wrap a collective 66 inches
around your 24 inch waist.
I need to sing a song
to shirts I have sought,
and shirts I have let go of.
I need to sing a song
to shirts I have cried over
and touched and loved.

It used to be I wouldn’t sew shirts.
They had French seams, collars and cuffs,
buttonholes and other complications,
there were too many difficulties
involved with shirts.
But now I need to sew a shirt,
made with delicate hand stitches
from cloth that three million
silk worms have died for,
a shirt that requires learning
a new handicraft, performed with care,
a shirt with engraved buttons
and hand stitched openings,
a shirt with silver trim
from an heirloom wedding dress.
I need to sew a shirt with patience
and love that startles the sky.

Everywhere I walk I see shirts.
In the supermarket by the dairy case,
the little boy’s t shirt
with the big red heart saying,
“I love you, Dad,” hurts me so
I have not bought milk in weeks.
The man in line I study
the yoke of his shirt,
shirts that whisper in the morning,
shirts stretching across broad shoulders,
hanging from skinny backs,
shirts making a statement,
weary in the world of commerce
where they are never touched,
shirts that burp babies,
shirts that saw trees,
shirts that have so much to do,
that are treated so haphazardly,
shirts I would fight for,
shirts I would protect,
shirts I would keep home with me,
shirts I would care for and cry over,
shirts I would love so hard
it would shock even the sky.

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