11 August 2013

The day they carried you off

                        THE COATS

                    by Tess Gallagher

                                             for Mary Kepler (1884-1966)

They made you complicated,
a new one each year
and underneath, the same
old print dress. Outside
under the maples you were smart
and garrulous on my grandfather's arm
walking down Valley Street
to the shops, talking into his silence
as into some idea of yourself
grown to your side.

Yet you loved telling how
you were engaged to another
the night he took you off 
in his buckboard.  Marriage too
came like an impulse
to turn against yourself.  Life
caught you up in its clumsy arms
and danced you out of your Oklahoma
youth into the milltown
of my birth, you in your new coat,
leading me into the dimestore
to buy silk ribbons.

Shut in the closet, your coats
were a family of witnesses
who could not remember you.
They were waiting for the one
to send them all again
into the weather.  Standing
before your mirror once
in the dark of the bedroom
I put myself into a heavy tweed
with its cold silk lining.  The wide arms
were a hiding place; the hem
brushed my patent leather shoes.
It was a bargaining
that I should turn into the room,
you age about me like a sack.

I wanted to throw something over you
the day they carried you off
like a trophy in your silk lining
Rosy and familiar you received each of us
in a housedress that denied you
were going anywhere.  That year
the winter came over the ground
like a rich white pelt.
I thought of you accepting it,
something chosen, a comfort
that had sought you out
in the cold of the land.

from Tess Gallagher, Amplitude: New and Selected Poems, 1987.

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