By Albert Goldbarth b. 1948 Albert Goldbarth

This sweater is made from only the finest, softest underhairs of the Mongolian camel.

“Fancy-schmancy,” my father would have said,   
whose snazziest sweater was still a declassé   
synthetic from the sweatshops of Taiwan. My friend   
Deloris, however, who really owns such clothes,   
would say “exquisite” or “sublime”—her opened closet’s   
row of shoulders teases late-day bedroomlight   
along such textures, there are days when the laboring brain   
and throbbing crotch appear to us to be not much more   
than her wardrobe’s tasteful accessories. “. . . woven   
from genital-down of prepubescent yeti, and then   
hand-sewn in our undersea domes.” “Untouched   
by anyone other than albino elves, this wool is . . . .”


Rarefied—to Helthi Hart, the diet guru, it’s   
a cup of clear organic cauliflower broth. And for   
the Emperor Excessia, it’s a mad dessert of swans’ tongues   
—there were, what? ten thousand?—dipped in a slip   
of stiffening honey and set out to await the banqueteers   
like a field of fresh shoots they could graze.   
Some Roman party hosts had great roped bowls of snow   
brought from the mountaintops to entertain their guests   
with dishes of rose-petal sherbet and chilled roe.   
They might even allow the household slaves to slide   
leftover snow along the burning welts the ropes ate   
into their shoulders all down the mountainside.   

Afterwards it was an unrecognizable tatter.   
But an image of my father’s worn-thin Bargain City   
“all-weather” jacket is still whole in its polyester glory.   
This is what happened: the alley dog (he later called the thing   
a “cur”) had cornered Livia, and she screamed once,   
with a seven-year-old’s unselfconscious terror.   
And then my father was there, with his jacket wound around his arm,   
and a rock. When it was over, he tore the sleeves off, tied the poor dog   
quiet and, after comforting Livia, they both kneeled down   
to comfort the dog. He was like that. And the jacket   
that served as weapon and restraint?—was like him,   
every day of his life. It did what was needed.   


I misread “migraine.” Which of the two   
would we call the most rarefied? “Margarine”?   
Or maybe comparison isn’t the point. A ghost   
is a person rarefied through the fine, fine colander   
death; that doesn’t make, for most of us, extinction   
an ideal. It was hard to think of Frank and Deloris   
divorcing, since it was hard to imagine the two of them   
engaging in anything so mundane as sex or rage or envy   
with the rest of the hoi polloi. They seemed unearthly   
in close to a literal way, like radio waves. And yet divorce
they did. They found something real they could unjoin,   
hertz from hertz until there just was air.   


A dream: We own the softest of the soft   
Mongolian camel underhair sweaters. One day   
(we think we’re doing the “right thing”) we release it   
into the wild, to romp with its brother and sister   
desert sweaters, out where it “belongs.”
You know, however, what happens by now: it’s unfit   
to fend for itself amid that hardened herd.   
They beat it. It’s hungry. It crawls back   
into the city, mewing, curling up at night against a door   
my father opens and, seeing something in need, brings it inside,   
wraps it in flannel. That’s how he was.   
He’d give you the cheap shirt off his back.

Albert Goldbarth, “Rarefied” from Saving Lives. Copyright © 2001 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with the permission of The Ohio State University Press, www.ohiostatepress.org.

Source: Poetry (October 1999).


This poem originally appeared in the October 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

 Albert  Goldbarth


Acclaimed for its dense, expansive form and linguistic energy, Albert Goldbarth’s poetry covers everything from historical and scientific concerns to private and ordinary matters. His numerous, highly-regarded collections are often filled with long poems which range in style from playful and conversational to serious and philosophical. Goldbarth’s unique style is a mix of complex ideas and detailed descriptions woven together . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Humor & Satire, Class, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Money & Economics

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.