The Clothes of the Dead

I have worn the clothes of the dead:
a second cousin's sweater,
already frayed when he died, I wore it
another dozen years;
my stepfather's scarves-
blue wool from Scotland,
white silk, and a yellow
Viella shirt. These were their
second skins I pulled on
inhabiting the shape of their
old clothes for years before
the clothes wore out;
days governed by clothes
unfolded and worn,
then thrown into a laundry hamper
or balled and kicked across
the floor. Now those clothes
are gone-eaten by moths,
torn into holes and rips
not even good as rags. I wore
my own clothes
like the clothes of the dead:
brown corduroy trousers, a sweater
shapeless and small even when new;
I pulled it over my head and assumed
the facial expressions of an old man-
these clothes aged me
into someone twice my age
sexless and afraid of life thinking
of retirement and paying off a mortgage;
the penalty of a marriage of lies
held together by threads,
thread-bare of love
a wardrobe
of secrets and despair.
Today I burned six shirts,
two sweaters and trousers:
I burn the past out of my
life, return to living
from dying, take what
I have been,
clothes that made me
someone I didn't want to be
or someone I was but never liked,
clothes that are days and months and years
of a life I gave up
to fear and despair.
Now those cloths are gone:
ashes of clothes
ashes of former selves
ashes of time and space
ashes of words and notebooks
ashes of thoughts
and flesh and blood
ashes of one who surrendered.

(from The Compass , Empyreal Press, Montreal, 1993)