HAVE YOU ANY CLOTHES to sell?
The years make a stain you can’t conceal,
Your fabric’s eaten, you discard
That part of your life for which you cared.
You pluck a thread from your cuff; it winces
Straight to your shoulder. Ambition grieves
In trunks and bags; moth-featured, minces
From closets, beating empty sleeves.
History stagnates in your house.
I smelt the ruinous time, will buy
Your waste of talent. There’s an ooze
Of souls too virulent to die.
Contagious on the baffling walls.
You sit and watch the ceiling crack;
Horror sifts through and softly falls
From worlds beyond the zodiac.
You fear the penitential bone
That growls in your breast, and the mind’s long feather,
The heart that imitates a stone,
And if your hands should grow together
And violence unstring your voice.
I know what hangs behind your stair,
Spoiling that conscience and disuse:
The uniform you never wear,
The fitness and the pride, so vilely
Dishonored, the smiling target mouth,
Innocence ambushed, in the sharp volley
Reeling before the huntsmen of youth.
Therefore I come to mobilize
Your poor blind wounds, as in the coat,
The form betrayed, the defeated eyes,
My brother my groom, my dear recruit.
There will be skirmishing and loot
And fires to light our matches. Let
The enemies of life beware
When these old clothes shall go to war.
Stanley J. Kunitz (1905–2006) was a twentieth-century American poet of Jewish Russian Lithuanian decent. After moving his family to America, Kunitz’s father, a dressmaker, died when he was fourteen, an event that profoundly influenced the poet and his work. Later working as a reporter and editor between New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts, Kunitz has come to be celebrated for his influence in the symbolist genre of poetry. The poem, ‘The Old Clothes Man,’ was published in Volume 44 of Poetry magazine in 1934.
Kristin Bjornerud is a Canadian artist based in Montreal.