American Life in Poetry: Column 671


Some of you may think that I publish too many poems about the deaths of loved ones, but poetry is a means of establishing order and form when times feel disordered and formless. Marge Saiser is a Nebraska poet and this poem is from the Winter 2016 issue of RATTLE, a California literary journal. Her most recent book is I Have Nothing to Say About Fire, from Backwaters Press.

Final Shirt

After my father died, my mother
and my sisters picked the shirt, the tie;
he had just the one suit.
I left them to it, I didn't
want to choose, I loved him
all those years. They took a shirt
from the closet, I don't remember
which one, I'm sure he had worn it
to church and hung it up again.
They held a tie against the cloth
of the shirt. They decided, finally.
It's like that. Things come down
to the pale blue or the white,
or some other. Someone buttoned it
over him, those buttons he had unbuttoned.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Marjorie Saiser, “Final Shirt,” from RATTLE, (Vol. 54, Winter, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.