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.