My Father Wore Rough Clothing

by Jeff Burt

My father wore rough clothing
both to the worn fingertip
and to the practiced eye,
flannel, corduroy, suits
with threads pulled out
from overuse or snags
from working, sitting in
soft wood chairs or pews.
His look was not one of ease
in clothes, and mirrored more
a rapid river than a quiet lake.
Shirts took on heft above the waist,
as if three shoulders were required
to fill them, pants where another limb
attached to his leg might occupy
the space, socks where tension
had escaped and multiple bulges
could be seen like deflated tires.
Except for an occasional cap,
no cloth provided comfort.

Except the cloth 
of a pastor, for when he spoke
from the pulpit or after at the door
his words rose to an eloquence,
folksy as in the art that Shakers
made of furniture, or what black women
made of quilts and song.
He knew the depth of the right
anecdote plumbed a person’s humility,
how a joke might set one to laugh
until the truth made that glee
a little too uncomfortable
and moved the spirit to a grace
toward others, the pronouncement
always to check one’s self
not just before a deed 
but before a thought of a deed,
not pictures of a smooth road
or mown grass, but images
of gravel, of sorrow, of clumps
of soil, briars, happiness one step
and grief another. 
At times like this, the eye-scratch
of plaid with an ungracious tie
seemed in place, the words
of mercy toward one another
brought a compassion and harmony
alone the clothes could never conceal.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, with his wife and a July abundance of plums. He has contributed to Heartwood, Williwaw Journal, Red Wolf Journal, and Clerestory. He won the Cold Mountain Review 2017 Poetry Prize. His work can be found at

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