Fall 2009 / Issues / Poetry 2009 / Volume 40

Cotton: A Sort of Sestina — Eric Paul Shaffer

Cotton is my life, and T-shirts are the clothes the moment wears,

soft stuff of familiar fabric worn into shape

as we make lives from the material.

A favorite may last years, but washing reveals

what becomes of cloth. As the color fades, the fit fits better.

Stitches loosen and seams relax, and the shape of the body

of the facts life learns show through–

the stance of the shoulders, the arch of the neck,

the rounding of the belly

Holes wear through, threads wear out, and the shirt wears well.

It’s the cotton. Tagless, china-white with a grand design,

the strength of the weaving is in the wearing,

and there’s wonder in the way the fabric fits

the warp and weft of weeks,

as days of dirt and sweat work to wear it all away.

Trace the tight weave to the source,

through flat channels in the rusty river of industry,

to the blooming white heart of the material,

and find there what we always find in the beginning, a seed

with the future folded within, as neatly as a new T-shirt.

We change our lives as we change our clothes,

daily, with the seasons, folding, packing,

wearing, tearing some into tatters and rags for other reasons,

and finding flashing stacks of a bright unwrinkled fold we seek

when we shop for T-shirts together.

We wear them in, we wear them out, and the material lasts only

long enough for us to change into something new.

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