His Jacket

by Witt Wittman
SplashHall Poetry
First Place, July 2007
Judged by Maurya Simon

Early mornings when the whippoorwills
have hushed their racket,
you stoop in the garden, pulling weeds,
always in your tan jacket,
checkerboarded with cigarette burns,
the pockets slick with grime
from years of nesting collected eggs,
the frayed knitted cuffs
hang like dried tassels on ready corn.

I was afraid if I washed it,
it would fall into shreds
and disappear down the drain,
to find a home with all your
lost dress socks,
(no matter; you never wore
anything but boot socks anyway).

Arms loaded with squash
and knotty tomatoes,
pockets filled with chicken eggs–
never eggplant,
you tossed that jacket on the
same ear of the same kitchen chair
for so many years that it is worn down
and shorter than the others.

I should throw the nasty thing away,
but your ruggedness still clings.
I need to wrap myself in it
like a photographer
under the black drape,
perhaps to capture you
one more spring,
stooping in your garden.

This poem enacts, with deft economy of language and emotional restraint, a morning gardening ritual that becomes an elegiac homage to someone beloved. The description of "his jacket" is tinged with humor and pathos, and it vividly provides insights into the man's character and habits. The last stanza's turn is both surprising and satisfying: the speaker wrestles with an urge to "throw the nasty thing away," but the man's "ruggedness still clings" to the jacket, causing the speaker to want to be "like a photographer," wrapped in "the black drape,/ perhaps to capture you/ one more spring"-- Brilliantly and subtly, the poet enters the void and freezes time, for a bittersweet moment, to savor again the beloved's imagined presence. --Maurya Simon