The Life Expectancy of Shirts

by Zack Rogow

We outlive them, our shirts. Too easily they get
snagged by chain link fences,
or pockmarked by sauces
twirled with golden oils.

Do they wait for us to choose them
like dance partners, impatient
for freedom from stringent hangers
and jostling closets?
Do they long to pump their arms
along boulevards past midnight,
to rub their cuffs
against a light
blue cashmere weave?

Only a few years they survive,
as long as eels, or foxes.
We outlast even the shirts we’re fondest of,
the daring silk, the paisley
with its vegetal teardrops,
or the thick cotton
hefty as an old sail.

But when we finally are dressed
in our very last one—
sleeves yanked onto rigored arms—
some of our favorites actually
survive us—a fact rarely mentioned
in obituaries.


Zack Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of twenty books or plays. His eighth book of poems, Talking with the Radio: poems inspired by jazz and popular music, was published in 2015 by Kattywompus Press. He is also writing a series of plays about authors, incorporating their writing into the action. The most recent of these, Colette: A One-Woman Show, had its first staged reading at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in February. He is the editor of an anthology of poetry of the U.S.A., The Face of Poetry, from University of California Press. Currently he teaches in the low-residency MFA in writing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and serves as poetry editor of Catamaran Literary Reader. More about him and his work can be found at

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