Poets for Science
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On Promising to Buy Only Previously Owned Clothes

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Give me precision if only for the most finite of tasks,

the shallowest of missions: to wear each thrift store,

each flea market garment like second skin until

I hear the breath above each stitch, what

accelerated the heart at the spindle, what

clouded the lung, what caught in the whirring

machine, who found it in themselves to sing.

Did their fingers, too, callus with needlework

until they lost their whorls, like Mrs. Wong’s?

When time came to ‘naturalize,’ her fingers had no prints

to prove who she was. Silver cotton, hemp, tencel, flax,

petroleum and army of polymers, feed my greed

the ghosts of each thread, soft and arsenic.

Note: The poem makes reference to the story of the Wongs, a Chinese American family who lived in the 1970s at 103 Orchard Street, in N.Y.C., which is now part of the Tenement Museum.