The Closet

By Bill Knott 1940–2014 Bill Knott

(...after my Mother’s death)

Here not long enough after the hospital happened   
I find her closet lying empty and stop my play   
And go in and crane up at three blackwire hangers   
Which quiver, airy, released. They appear to enjoy

Their new distance, cognizance born of the absence   
Of anything else. The closet has been cleaned out   
Full-flush as surgeries where the hangers could be   
Amiable scalpels though they just as well would be

Themselves, in basements, glovelessly scraping uteri   
But, here, pure, transfigured heavenward, they’re
Birds, whose wingspans expand by excluding me. Their   
Range is enlarged by loss. They’d leave buzzards

Measly as moths: and the hatshelf is even higher!—
As the sky over a prairie, an undotted desert where   
Nothing can swoop sudden, crumple in secret. I’ve fled   
At ambush, tag, age: six, must I face this, can

I have my hide-and-seek hole back now please, the   
Clothes, the thicket of shoes, where is it? Only   
The hangers are at home here. Come heir to this   
Rare element, fluent, their skeletal grace sings

Of the ease with which they let go the dress, slip,   
Housecoat or blouse, so absolvingly. Free, they fly
Trim, triangular, augurs leapt ahead from some geometric   
God who soars stripped (of flesh, it is said): catnip

To a brat placated by model airplane kits kids
My size lack motorskills for, I wind up glue-scabbed,   
Pawing goo-goo fingernails, glaze skins fun to peer in as
Frost-i-glass doors ... But the closet has no windows,

Opaque or sheer: I must shut my eyes, shrink within   
To peep into this wall. Soliciting sleep I’ll dream   
Mother spilled and cold, unpillowed, the operating-
Table cracked to goad delivery: its stirrups slack,

Its forceps closed: by it I’ll see mobs of obstetrical   
Personnel kneel proud, congratulatory, cooing
And oohing and hold the dead infant up to the dead   
Woman’s face as if for approval, the prompted

Beholding, tears, a zoomshot kiss. White-masked   
Doctors and nurses patting each other on the back,   
Which is how in the Old West a hangman, if
He was good, could gauge the heft of his intended ...

Awake, the hangers are sharper, knife-’n’-slice, I jump   
Helplessly to catch them to twist them clear,   
Mis-shape them whole, sail them across the small air   
Space of the closet. I shall find room enough here

By excluding myself; by excluding myself, I’ll grow.

Bill Knott, "The Closet" from Becos, published by Random House.  Copyright 1983 by Bill Knott.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Becos (1983)

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Poet Bill Knott 1940–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships, Activities, Indoor Activities

 Bill  Knott


Bill Knott’s poetry collections include The Naomi Poems, Book One: Corpse and Beans (1968), Becos (1983), Outremer, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize (1988), Laugh at the End of the World: Collected Comic Poems 1969–1999 (2000), The Unsubscriber (2004), and Stigmata Errata Etcetera (2007), a collaboration with collages by the artist Star Black. Knott published The Naomi Poems, Book One: Corpse and Beans under the pseudonym . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships, Activities, Indoor Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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