William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

My Old Black Sport Coat

Today is our eldest grandson’s eleventh birthday. This poem was written not long after he was born. The coat in question is a thirteen-dollar woolen thrift store affair. I bought it in 2001 to wear to a wedding. It was made in Hungary. I liked it so much, and it held up so well, that I wore it regularly for a good dozen years, until it finally gave out. But I still have it, and it looks good at a glance. The trouble is, when I try to put it on, I never know which holes to put my arms through.

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.

Collected Poems, November 26, 2007

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Categories: Collected Poems

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