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Traveling in Notions

Traveling in Notions

By Michael J. Rosen

These days, a man knows the little good
that comes from kidding himself; the littler good,
from kidding others. That's what Gordon Penn
would hazard, regarding notions. Who's concerned
with his wares? You'd think they'd all misunderstood
(thought that it was cares he'd been purveying)
the way people would rather give up than mend,
be done with something than do something about it.

Time was – and hell, the world was – run by hand
and what the hand provided, Penn bemoans
with standing customers old enough to agree:
the tailors measuring silk like destinations;
embroiderers stitching monograms of patience;
the guild of quilters salvaging the remnants;
the darners meting out time – and time again,
for the worn, ripped, tattered, snagged, and torn.

Business is not as usual. Penn would like
his fellows to picture an unalterable world:
the hands retired to the last adhering buttons,
the laces knotted, impossibly to themselves.
What if the pants should deny the legs have grown,
shoes banish their own soles to wandering
the cement, if no one alive could join a pattern,
mend the husband's collar, the children's knees?

Accept the fact that each thing takes
its turn turning against us. Poor morbid
Penn. Who tends the angel's raiment's, or shrouds
- the immaterial things which, one day,
we will or will not deserve? Well (or ill),
it's the immediate that wants repair.
The places discontinuing his goods
mount steadily; of eyelets, facing,

or snaps, the younger clerks couldn't care less –
but will, eventually. He remembers
one merchant in particular, who argued,
"Who need felt? Who need to have felt?"
and shut Penn's sample book like a fist.
Among the few practitioners who share
Penn's feelings, that has become a standard
in the handful of lines he represents.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Fall 1986)


Michael J. Rosen

Michael J. Rosen is the author, editor, or illustrator of over one hundred books for readers of all ages. His poetry is collected in four volumes: A Drink at the Mirage (Princeton University Press) Traveling in Notions: The Stories of Gordon Penn (University of S. Carolina Press), and Telling Things (Harcourt) and the forthcoming Georgics. He shares 100 acres with cats and dogs in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains of Central Ohio. His Website is www.michaeljrosen.com.

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