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American Life in Poetry

Most of us will never touch a Klansman’s robe, or want to touch one. Rachel Richardson, who lives in North Carolina, here touches one for us, so that none of us will ever have to.


The first time I touched it,

cloth fell under my fingers,

the frail white folds

softened, demure. No burn,

no combustion at the touch of skin.

It sat, silent, like any other contents

of any other box: photographs

of the dead, heirloom jewels.

Exposed to thin windowlight it is

exactly as in movies:

a long gown, and where a chest

must have breathed, a red cross

crossed over. The crown, I know,

waits underneath, the hood with eyes

carefully stitched open, arch cap

like a bishop’s, surging to its point.

Poem copyright 2011 by Rachel Richardson from “Copperhead” (Carnegie Mellon University Press), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.