My delight in thrift shops and tag sales goes beyond bargain-hunting. I enjoy the writerly speculation about the backstory of clothes and knicknacks, and the sense of gratitude to mysterious strangers who left this one-of-a-kind object here for me to find. On a more somber note, after a friend of ours died of cancer last summer, I feel good seeing some of his shirts having a second life in my husband’s closet.
That’s why this poem by Frannie Lindsay resonated with me. The column is reprinted by permission from American Life in Poetry, a project of the Poetry Foundation. Read a sample from Lindsay’s first book, Lamb, on the website of Northampton’s own Perugia Press, a fine publisher of poetry books by women.
American Life in Poetry: Column 304
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
After my mother died, one of the most difficult tasks for my sister and me was to take the clothes she’d made for herself to a thrift shop. In this poem, Frannie Lindsay, a Massachusetts poet, remembers a similar experience.
The Thrift Shop Dresses
I slid the white louvers shut so I could stand in your closet
a little while among the throng of flowered dresses
you hadn’t worn in years, and touch the creases
on each of their sleeves that smelled of forgiveness
and even though you would still be alive a few more days
I knew they were ready to let themselves be
packed into liquor store boxes simply
because you had asked that of them,
and dropped at the door of the Salvation Army
without having noticed me
wrapping my arms around so many at once
that one slipped a big padded shoulder off of its hanger
as if to return the embrace.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Frannie Lindsay, from her most recent book of poems, Mayweed, The Word Works, 2009, and reprinted by permission of Frannie Lindsay and the publisher. The poem first appeared in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Vol. 34, no. 1, Winter 2009. Introduction copyright ©2010 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.