Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Vest

When Susan came to visit, she wanted to meet Mim who is often at the Bagel Bards on Saturday mornings. (That's where I was fortunate enough to meet her, find out about her blog and become blog buddies with the occasional foray into the real world, so to speak...though sometimes I think the blog is a very realish world.)

So, after they chatted and found out how much each likes/buys at thrift stores, Mim took us down the street to the one she visits after the Bards. Another poet, Bert Stern, came along (he does the same thing every Saturday), but he ducked into the basement where the mens clothes are kept. (He had told me about the wonderful pair of expensive pants, probably unworn, he bought there, and the marvelous jacket. Susan buys almost all her quite remarkable clothes in thrift or second hand stores.)

I was horrified by this large room full of things people had worn and given away, coded by color and use. Blue sweaters, yellow, orange, red, green, brown, black. Jackets and blouses and pants. My eye was immediately caught by a boiled jacket, maybe a sea green, that looked just like my aunt Marion would have worn it. I walked around, holding it for a little while, knowing I'd never, ever put it on. I wear the same thing in winter, turtle necks with a vest, blue jeans or black pants. I've gone into supremo decorative mode because I now add a long scarf that hangs down in some inelegant way, but looks colorful. (TJMax has wonderful scarves...and Susan and I went there late in the afternoon and bought scarves.)

Before I left, went back to Au Bon Pain for a sandwich to wait for Susan, she found a vest that she just had to show Mim....I didn't get close enough to fully admire this relic, but I saw enough to realize that it was very old, a long-loved creature that had been mended many times, the toggle fastenings replaced by bits of nylon stocking that had served that function. I took any number of photos of Susan holding it out for Mim to examine, but none were particularly good. Only this one survives.

I thought I was going to write a poem about this experience, but it wasn't close enough to me, really, to do that. I wasn't surprised when Mim told me that she was working on one. She owned it. "I wouldn't buy it," she said, "It has too much of the person still in it."  (Or something like that.)


  1. The Vest, which none of us actually owns, has grown in our minds, and has earned a capital V. Here's the poem so far. I dedicate to Sue and Melissa:

    Second Hand Vest Sue Found at Goodwill

    Those nights, Mim, when you drown in a sea of regret,
    you—at least—can say: I did not buy that fucking vest,
    no matter what Sue said or how much she loved it.
    Because it cut her armpits she offered it to you,

    tiny, dainty Mim. Kiss your fingers. You’ve escaped
    the padded Chinese garment that kept a woman warm—
    stop gloating, you dope: that woman could be you,
    five one, a hundred and five, small foot, tense mouth.

    When her fingers could not work the frogs, she sewed on
    snaps, hooks, a loop into which she could push a fat button.
    The most terrible adaptation, her last and most frugal, I guess:
    ties cut from shriveled nylons the fleshy color of a prosthesis.

    Sue’s not all wrong: the cream facing at the collar is dreamy,
    whiskery black stitches, the black silk of the body still inky.
    I wish the woman’s kids had burned it. I don’t want the weight
    of her old age, her stiff pinching fingers, her life with a vest.

    As soon as it’s light, I’ll build a fire and burn everything I can’t
    work, close, or fasten—I can still strike a match. Empty bragging.
    I’ll give the earrings from India to my belle fille—“daughter-
    in law” is better in French. They’re her colors—Kathryn Delvina.

  2. What a wonderful post, from you Melissa and Mim's poem above is magnificent, both the poem and the prose so apt for the end of the year.

    Maybe the end of the year is like an old overcoat. We've worn it out, it's been had and done. Now for some new clothes.

    I especially love the idea of a coat you would not buy because it had too much of its previous owner in it. I know the feeling. It's the icky shudder that runs through in any op shop - you call them thrift shops- but I love op shops nevertheless, the promise of a bargain, or something wonderful and unexpected is ever present, a bit like your writing here.

    I'm so glad you ran into Mim. you're not the first person who has demonstrated the 'real' quality of blog life.

    There is a definite sense of community that some are fortunate enough to translate into actual contact. It's good though that it's not possible with everyone. I'd have no time for anything if I went out and met everyone of my fellow bloggers. Nor i suspect would I blog if i had to translate every written contact into a real one. There's a joy in the virtual that reminds me of the joys of imagination. We need both.

    Have a lovely new year.

  3. What a nice snarky poem, Mim. I can hear Catallus in there, such a good influence. Tiny you and tall Susan..... Get out the matches.
    I managed to get out a brown bag of papers, but damn, this is just impossible, all this stuff...

  4. one of my favorite things, thrift stores! the vest reminds me very much of a sweater i recently found and didn't resist.
    good new year wishes to you!