Hanger Shirts

Each year before school started, mother led
him to the store, through the men’s department,

past the boys’ clothing to the back room
with the faded cardboard sign that said:

Irregulars.

He didn’t know what made him irregular—
perhaps it was the birthmark on his left leg

or the cowlick of hair he had to smash down
with water each morning before the bus came.

Heaps of clothing lay tangled in large gray bins,
not possessing the common courtesy to line up

for easy inspection on wooden hangers.
Some pieces tried to escape over the bin edges

and onto the floor, as if not even the shirts
and pants wanted to associate with him.

His mother plunged her arms deep
into piles of cloth, like a scuba diver hunting

for sunken treasure, trying to find a pearl
that had gone undetected by other shoppers.

As she grumbled, “awful button holes”
and “horrible seam stitching,”

he anxiously raised his eyes to see
if any of the other customers had noticed

he was irregular—the sign suspended
from the ceiling like a lighthouse beacon,

warning the richer families to stay away.
He knew it was too much to wish

for a hanger shirt: a shirt neatly pressed
and arranged by size on a shiny metal rack.

He had once asked his mother about hanger shirts
but she had just shot him a look he knew meant

he should be quiet and forget that question.
Standing in front of the clothing bin, his head

bowed, all thought of hope and hangers
slipped away until a pair of pants hit him

in the ribs, pressing his pendant Crucifix
into his chest—the form of one irregular boy

leaving its impression on another. And he heard
his mother say, “Try those on in the fitting room.”