They very well might in the world on the other side of the looking glass, where bread-and-butterflies flicker through marmalade skies and talking eggs wear dapper outfits. Your clothes might miss you in this world, too, if you’re one of those people whose minds easily slip into personifying—giving life and personality to objects that others see as merely inanimate bits of material. Those people are sometimes called children—or poets.
And in “The Sadness of Clothes,” poet Emily Fragos does a fine bit of personifying as she finds a new way to describe the pain and bewilderment of losing a loved one, whether through death or some other departure. Like Elaine Equi in “Ghosts and Fashion,” Fragos delicately balances whimsy and grief. “When someone dies,” she writes, “the clothes are so sad.” The poem’s speaker tries to explain death to the heartbroken clothes:
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back
As when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
And had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.
You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
And how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.
She tries to convince the clothes that through language, we can lessen grief or at least make it easier to bear:
You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
You will finally let grief out. …
Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,
Or hanging inside the dark closet.
But these poor clothes refuse to be comforted:
Do with us what you will,
They faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.
The power of words has failed for these sad clothes, but perhaps it has worked its magic for the poet. And maybe the clothes will come around, led by a jaunty cap or pair of suspenders who just can’t be sad for too long. “You know him,” they might tell the others. “He’d want us to be happy, and useful. And it‘s really stuffy in this drawer. So why don’t we all stop crying and go find someone else who needs a snappy set of duds?”
You never do really know, do you?