The White Shirt (for anyone in my generation)

The White Shirt
for Jason Cant

I’ve gone out to pull the white shirt
without a man, without a hand, an arm,
pull the white shirt off of the other end
of the spectrum and find a splash in the

eye of the stranger. My father, you have
gone out like a bringer of darkness to
fit into this shirt as I would fit into marriage
or any kind of wedding dress that would

hang like a sign I hold up to protest more
than the cold, more than the source of pain.
My father, you were wearing black when
I touched your hand in the dark and found

my life stumbling along like a hiker would
or a truth that finally comes from the ground
in autumn when I don’t have big thoughts
as much as that moon. My father, your shirt

was discolored from taking out the dirt in
our buried family bones, washing out our
dreams and pounding out the sound of
something lovely, something thin and lovely,

something drunk and thin and lovely. You
are my favorite song, my father, favorite
sight in that shirt I’ve cut straps out of for
my forehead, for my gun wounds, for my

monthly reminder that I am a woman. My
father, you are a man who heard the arts
were put on a leash and walked for miles
until all the traction went out of it and now

we are left slip sliding away. That will be
me in winter, some kind of white shirt
thrown down again and again with a chest
of brown hair under my feet, I walk on men

who haven’t changed the morning light from
their mouths like swallowing a bright noise
left out here to show me the way. My father,
I don’t follow. I don’t see. I barely hear. All

that I do is wash and wash that white shirt
to get the hairs out, to get the blood stains out, to
get the crease across my forehead into the
next layer of sleep, and you, making it work

like so much depends upon the ability to rise,
I only thought it meant out of my body, the
man who wears the shirt has gone out like
a candle that could never fight back the dark

part of longing to let go, the shirt blowing
against the trees like a sheet that won’t
reveal the next chapter we’ve taken like
making it a flag. My father, there were jobs

I’ve done where nothing could be done for me,
no rise, no pulling the shirt away from the bone,
no making the right noise to start dead man walking.
Sometimes that sky is so blue, it makes sense to

work with your hands, to stay busy and to get paid
the smallest amount of space I could take up for myself.
My father, the white shirt does only fit the man of
this world who hasn’t seen last of his dying, but

makes a way that doesn’t fall across dead embers
the way the poet makes a way where there isn’t any.
My father, my father. I have gone out to bring the
lamb home. I have gone out to bring the curtain

around the moon in like a dazzling coat. I have
gone out to bring in the next day building up a
new and forgiving nature that the next artist will
press into their making like a teacher. My father,

you were the one who taught me that days are
made for this, this pulling yourself up, out, right
way up and getting something more than reflection,
something hanging on the moon like a child playing

the flute, it was so young that the neighbors were
wearing pajamas to dinner and leaving their
comments out like tips. I have gone out for the
tips, for the cash, for the white washed wall that

is only mine. I put on it some words. I put on
my best energy. My father, no one has come
for me the way the years come, nobody would
notice me, head down, walking against the wind,

seeing that white shirt blowing against the history
of my delusions, my insanity. It’s enough to
choke back the stars and howl my most lonely
midnight making. My father, you were asleep

when I lost my life, and I took it off of you,
white as any clean break I couldn’t make, and
you, years spent wearing it, shrugged it off
like a moth, another time maybe, another way

out, too dark now to see each other, just
a little off like most teams are when they lose,
but no one throws in the towel, no one except
at day’s end when there is no difference.

it brought the house down. you’d have to hear me read it.


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