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J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser's most recent collection of poems is Foiled Again (Ivan R. Dee, 2007). In 2010 she was the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She teaches in the creative writing program at Ohio University, where she edits New Ohio Review.


At eighteen I bought you cheap: long-sleeved
navy cotton, reddish birds embroidered
at the breast. I wore you everywhere
back then—now just around the house, to bed.  
Your weave contains a topical endorphin.
You fit like nothing else I own,
like nothing, only warmer, bearing me
patiently along, my hair riding you
at every length. You've borne so many gaffes!
Everything I should have said in one sleeve,
all I shouldn't have tucked up the other.
How thin you've become, eroded by my shrugs,
reduced by the harsh indignities
of the cold-water wash, the dank floor corner,
the hasty suitcase-cram and top-drawer-stuff,
wearing thin beneath bad jokes (those birds)
that cast their shadow, weakened you
like Tinkerbell swallowing Pan's poison—
when I'm sick I always reach for you.
So many consecutive years of germs!
There can't be one square inch of your front panel
that hasn't tasted wine or Haagen-Dazs.
Amazing there's no stain. Just like my skin,
no lasting marks of weakness or woe,
mine or theirs. Until recently.
Didn't I learn everything in you?
Italian architecture, Star Trek, Torts,
astrology, passages of Proust.
Those cool summer nights we pored over
love's polygraph, the intimate form of you
in five languages. Remember the blast
we had, brushing up on our Hungarian?

Shirt! What must my husband think of me,
brazenly brandishing you in his bed,
livery and banner of  my past—
wearing memories so tightly to my skin,
these cards so close to my chest!  
How dare I? How can he share me with you?  
But truly I can say you're just a textile
in which I longed for him with other men.
Actively longed. In hope of him. I mean, right?
"Oh it's only a shirt," I can tell him.  
Would you mind that? I want to be buried
in you, though that would be selfish.  
You'll have more life in you even then,
Shirt, I'm sure. Look at you, no holes,
okay one—but not a single seam undone.
In places you are virtually transparent:  
mere airy adumbrations of elbow.

Do other women throw away their shirts,  
or wear them without thinking? They must.  
My best friend got married a second time
in her first wedding dress. It's just a dress!
(Expensive.) He never saw it before!
(Had met the man only six months earlier.)  
It still fits me!  
Do you think this had anything to do
with her second divorce? We know that dress
knew things she could never tell that husband.
Oh, remember that day in '77?
Even my best friend was not around.
That was when I really did want to die,
and that night you stayed on, held tight.
Shit Shirt let's not get sentimental,
I recognize you're just the fabric in which
I first heard the voice of Bessie Smith,
first figured out what wasn't mine,
first learned I wanted to have a child.  
Why didn't you come to the hospital? I missed you.
Right, that was the year you didn't fit.
Shirt! How about New Year's, '85?
And July of '03, and February '07,
not to mention just last week.
I was almost a goner again: but you
were there when I got home—got "home."
How lightly you touched my shoulder.


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