Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Old Black Sport Coat

Although references to the old black wool sport coat I bought for $12.99 at Goodwill seven years ago to wear to a wedding are scattered here and there around the site, I haven’t written a poem about it until now. I still wear the coat for months at a stretch during the colder part of the year. In fact, I do more than wear it. I rely on it. I have only one other sport coat — a pointlessly speckled light-gray affair that I wore only a few times several years ago. A bit on the flimsy side, that one cost $7.99, and it never did fit that well. I don’t remember just why I bought it. Restless, probably. The black one fits perfectly and is quite warm. It was made in Hungary. I love it. It’s a faithful friend.

My Old Black Sport Coat

Someday I think I’d like to wear it in Ireland,
And maybe even be buried in it there.
I could fall asleep while leaning on its sturdy
Unfaded elbows, surrounded by strangers in a pub,
And then simply not wake up — as if I’d lost
My train of thought, or managed to forget
The most important thing. Perdóneme,
What did you say again? Ah. He’s dead.
But what a fine sport coat.

That same train is calling in the wilderness.
Now it’s moving slowly past the docks.
Men look up: the beast sniffs along the track,
But knows not where to stop.

Six years ago, when I helped lay my dear Basque
Mother-in-law to rest, I was wearing this coat.
Her grave is beside her husband’s
In a cemetery adjacent to an onion field.
Earlier, in the church,
The man who rented her vineyard
Looked at me as if I were strange.
Jealous of the coat, I thought,
Or puzzled by my hair and beard.
And now, he is dead.

His tractor is calling in the wilderness.
Now it’s moving slowly past the docks.
Men look up: the beast sniffs along the furrow,
But knows not where to stop.

I taught three sons how to drive
While wearing this old black coat:
Country roads, parking lots, residential streets.
I taught them how to use their mirrors
And to back up along a curb.
Hills were easier, they learned,
In first or second gear.

Frequently, along the way, I remembered
When my father had taught me.

After our youngest son got his license,
I was wearing this coat when the two of us
Stopped at a tobacco shop after buying his insurance.
I bought a cigar and smoked it in this coat,
To celebrate what he’d done, but also in memory
Of my old man,

Who somehow became lost in the wilderness.
Now he’s walking slowly past the docks.
Men look up: maybe they know him.
But if they did, wouldn’t they call out?

When I held my grandson for the first time,
I was wearing this coat. Outside, rain.
Along a scented, night-black street,
I walked away from the hospital in this coat,
Pleased and wondering what it meant.

You never know who you’ll meet in the wilderness.

Introduction and poem from Collected Poems, written November 26, 2007. “My Old Black Sport Coat” also appeared in the Armenian Poetry Project.

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