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Burial Underwear

Saying the words My father died
for the first time, I felt my face
crumple like a creek bed undermined
by rushing water, the giving way
almost causing a sob to escape
in front of strangers at the airport
ticket counter where gray carpet
matched January skies. I wanted
to reach Seattle to hold him one
last time but had missed, by twelve hours,
my chance. Later, the funeral director's face
contorted when I asked could I see his body
before the embalming, the makeup
and clothes. You don't want to see him
like that
, she said. Mother and I stood
together at the closet of his beautiful suitsó
not expensive cashmere jackets but frayed
corduroy, elbows and cuffs, neat slacks, none
recently worn but still fragrant
with his skin, underarms, hair.
Together we picked out a pale yellow
dress shirt, jacket and pants the rich
brown of his hair long ago, forgetting socks,
underwear. Leaning over the casket
to kiss him goodbye, I felt the chilly
metal box pillowed inside with silkó
thinking how he lay so distinguished
there either with no underwear
or wearing some other man's garment
into the grave. My father once wore
handsome boxers, paisley, a small printó
tan, an olive green, and as a young girl I would
fold them, pet them almost, dreaming of days
ahead when I would know all the great
and profound mysteries.

Patricia Clark

Sunday Rising
Michigan State University Press

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