Trouble Shirt

Mailing heaps of paper isn’t unusual, but when the pants started arriving in my office mail slot (postage due) I couldn’t blink them away. I swear one crumpled set of brown corduroys was still warm from your knees, or maybe it was hot in the van that day. I’ve forgotten most of what might be deemed tender, because I wasn’t looking for it. Nobody cares if you’re loved when it’s just a little.

Various past mistakes wanted to make amends. Yet I was no longer the girl with a hammer in her hand, teetering in front of a stained glass depiction of the Last Supper. Restaurants that had housed our fondest memories were boarded up. In the old days that never would have stopped us, but now I had a mortgage and you had your various failed campaigns, including me.

It was just like a shell game, but with hands. And maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but it lasted a lot longer than expected. Suddenly we had to imagine what the future fashions would be, to avoid wearing them on accident. Such as really boisterous scarves, an oversized watch that you hitched tight around my ankle, then some reference to Faulkner and a whole lot of exhaling followed by distant interjections from the bell tower.

When I said I wanted arugula for my birthday, I wasn’t being whimsical. A man can trouble you all year, a bee in the bedsheets, a bucket of paint in your mushroom soup. And to say that you were my ally was at times a specious claim. Wars have been waged over less than clandestine attendance at a funeral with a woman described as a pile of outdated bylaws.

Perhaps you should know that I still have my trouble shirt. In our messages about past outfits, we have been careful to avoid it. Let’s go back to the day that we tried to find the magnetic springs. Instead we lost the wheel of the truck and talked about the plastic music box you loved as a child. And how then I danced like a coil of ribbon wrapped around a tree.


Mary Biddinger is the author of five full-length poetry collections, most recently Small Enterprise and The Czar, both with Black Lawrence Press. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Akron, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry at the University of Akron Press.