Paula Persoleo is a 2011 graduate of Stony Brook’s MFA program in Southampton, NY. Her recent work has been accepted by Philadelphia Stories, Panoply, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. She is an adjunct at the University of Delaware and lives in Delaware with her husband.
How to Clean the Stain from Your Favorite Shirt
Don’t wear the shirt, even if it’s plain, beige, too big on you. Divert the conversation. Poetry,
coffee, your husband—anything but his divorce. Add extra detergent. Wash the shirt alone.
Repeat. Don’t listen when he tells you he’s local now. Bleach will tint the beige. Hot water will
change the size. Tell him how happy you are with your life. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Write a
poem about your favorite shirt. Don’t absorb cigarette smoke when you give what you think will
be a hug. Buy a new washing machine. Forget his mouth looking for your lips. Forget his mouth.
Forget your lips. Hide the shirt under the clothes on your dresser. Make the pile grow until the
mirror disappears. Focus on the pit of your stomach. Next time, heed the warning. Throw the
shirt in the darkest corner of the closet. Forget you own a beige shirt. Do not attend another
reunion. Do not leave your state. Do not exit your home. The stain is not visible. No one will
believe you if you say it’s there. Set the shirt on fire. Forget it was yours.
Face it, girl. That stain won’t budge.
If These Birds Were Syrian Refugees
and returned long after the war, they
would find rubble behind a chain fence
—a pile of ash replacing the hidden
young oak, the wild butterfly bushes.
We gave no heed to limbs sawed off,
piled haphazardly as they’d been cut,
burned with whatever leaves and nests
impeded final mastery of the back yard.
Today I saw a robin confused by space
that had once been home, searching for
nest and mate. As if for the first time,
I brooded over homelessness and despair.