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From the Poet's Notebook

New poems by Howard Nelson

Men's Clothing Store

I go in to buy a shirt for my son.

He's turning forty next week.

I look through the piles of shirts on the shelves,

in the cool of the air conditioning.

It's 95 degrees outside, another day

in this brutal July heatwave we've been having.

And while I leaf through the shirts,

I have a conversation with Marty.

I've been buying clothes from him

for nearly forty years. His father

owned the store before him, and his grandfather

before that. Marty started working here

when he was a teen-ager,

and now he's close to 60.

The sign outside says, "Since 1917,"

and here we are in 2014.

"Are you getting ready for the centennial?" I ask,

and he says yes, he is, though he hasn't decided

what form the celebration will take.

100 year in the men's clothing business.

That's something. Spending your whole life

doing what your father did, and your grandfather,

and in the same location--that's something.

He tells me about when they expanded, 35 years ago--

knocked our a wall and took over the store next door,

where the suits and pants are now.

His father was running the place back then.

Business was good. They needed the space.

"We had seven people working here then!

Those were the days. The salad days,

before the malls and the factory outlet

dropped like development bombs

out in the cornfields west of town.

Things are quieter now. But he's got loyal customers,

and he does a good business in uniforms.

"Well, it's still a nice store," I say,

as he wraps up the bright but tasteful

red and blue plaid short-sleeve shirt

that I've chosen. Woolrich, made in Bengladesh.

First in a box, then in a sheet

of dark green paper he tears

with a satisfying, ripping sound

along the cast iron paper holder's long blade.