“Workshirt Song for a Second Wife” by Kate Sontag

Kate Sontag


Not the lobster pot
nor the chamber pot
not the driftwood
or the firewood

not the stripped
oak spool towel rack
or the small claw-footed
porcelain tub. Not

the giant bleached green
nautical chart
stapled to a sunny wall
by the window

nor the yellowed stack
of flute music
on top of the upright
piano. Not even

the children’s rainy day
clay animals
in procession on the sill
or the family

photograph tucked
behind the coat tree
at the foot of the shallow
stairwell. When

you climb to unpack,
not any of these
ever takes you quite
so much by surprise

as your husband’s
ex-wife’s workshirt
hanging in the master
bedroom closet

of this island house
they still share.
By now you should be
used to the presence

of such washed out
denim, an embroidered
daisy on one breast
pocket frayed

like the peeling
interior of the sloping
gabled rooftop
each summer

you come up here.
Always on the same
hook, nothing more
than something

she might have cleaned
or gardened in,
or casually thrown over
her shoulders

on foggy Vinalhaven
mornings. This time
offering from the adjacent
pocket a blackened

sprig of rosemary
and a tiny white
button missing
from the torn left cuff.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Kate Sontag: “Having traveled full-circle from stepdaughter to stepmother, I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a ‘step-language’ poet, not to be confused with the Language poets with whom I have very little in common.” (web)

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