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The Flowered Shirt, by James Cox

The man waiting for the carpool ride to arrive,
standing in the hallway in the gray sharkskin suit,
tubes of Havana panatelas inside his coat pocket,

a starched white shirt, his wingtips shining, gray
felt trilby with a two inch band held by the brim
in his right hand—he looks the same as the man

who left yesterday morning and every yesterday,
all lined up in my mind like spotless edgeless
man-shaped dominoes, each one the same man,

the queue receding back through time, hundreds
of replicated sharkskin-suited men with cigars
and hats, thousands of them, reduced in shades

and sizes by a seemingly infinite distance, every
one starched white and stiff gray. Which one bears
the distinction that makes him mine? What would

that distinction be? All of them left to go fishing. They
sat on the stern seat of as many boats as they were,
at the helm of the outboard engines, steering out

to sea; the line of boats, the gray-suited men
with cigars and trilby hats, taking off in series
from the shore like synchronized divers in a show—

not one looked back or thought to give a sign. Thick
dark clouds rolled over the rapidly blackening sea;
all the boats and men vanished. Lightning strokes
plunged iridescent yellow bowls under the surface;
no shadows sinking, the whine of engines gone,
no sound but the distant storm. Flat silvery-backed

fish jumped out of the water as I walked the beach
going north. I came to a table set out at the edge-line
of high tide. I found the square gift box one of them

had left behind. When I lifted the lid and looked inside,
the obviousness of it struck me: the uncanny under-
standing; the absurd, perfectly conceived wisdom.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 14, Issue 1.

James Cox, founder of the Four Winds Daoist Center, lives mysteriously in the woods in Whittier, North Carolina, talks with dogs and sends poems out to the universe. He cooks excellent Chinese food in his wok.

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