Karen Anderson on "FINAL SALE ($245.94 Lord & Taylor)"

FINAL SALE ($245.94 Lord & Taylor)

I could have had the heavy fall of a dress
cut correctly, the sweater designed to mask
the ass. Loot blessed by the mannequin's
upturned hands. Who steals my purse
steals trash. The men's department end-times
more rapidly, but who cares. Women's coats
with their murderous trims and swings,
everlasting feather collars: on sale for a reason.
Can I steel myself to graft the insane
to the classic: shoulder pads, the cocktail
cut, the holy A-line. Wings sprung into being
and fading with the season. Outside, I finally find
the trashbirds feeding themselves in the dumpster,
sparrows and grackles, timeless sable and green.
Spent tags, plastic hangers cracked like ice.
Scattered fries, lice and oil. They drain that chance
till I can't say what steals my birds. My purse. My trash.

"FINAL SALE ($245.94 Lord & Taylor)"

This poem, from my new book Receipt (Milkweed, 2016), has three patron saints. The first is Marianne Moore. I used my cash register receipts as the starting place for the poems, and Moore, I think, is best at capturing both the thrill and the ultimate flatness of buying stuff. I remember her tricorn hat every time I attempt to shop at upscale department stores. I think of her again when I end up in the parking lot with a bagful of clothes I'll never want to wear. The idea of shopping as a feminine sport—the whole "I Love Shopping!" thing of my childhood—has morphed into something different now, but shopping is still understood as a delightful game dependent on quickness, accuracy, knowledge, and bravery, one that delivers solidarity, solace, pleasure. In short, it's not a neutral experience. And actually going to a "final sale," I have found, is charged with all the panic, risk, and promise the phrase implies.

Because Moore's poems coolly catch and release their objects and animals, and I tend to feel a bit more feverish when I'm shopping, I needed a second patron saint, but far less saintly. When I high-stakes shop, I feel that I've gotten a steal, and then, just as suddenly, stolen from, confused, cheated, robbed blind. There's a chance to win and a chance you'll be tricked and lose. So I needed some other patron saints, too, namely Othello's strategist Iago: "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;/'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;/But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him,/And makes me poor indeed." I love his indictment of cash, the feint of rationality and virtuousness urged here, and I love the sophistic slide, here, between something and nothing—cash is trash but so, when know, is Iago's "good name."

The third saint is animal: the "trashbirds" (a designation birders sometimes use for common species). As with many poems in Receipt, the nonhuman world illuminates the oddness of our judgments about the world, the sources of our pleasure and disgust. What humans deem to be valuable or trash is really peculiar from the outside. I don't have illusions that we can occupy another consciousness completely: we are strange animals and language is a leaky boat. But there is hope, I think, in the ways that poems might help us reframe our own narrow desperation; there is hope in the choice to see things anew, to rebuild with the materials we have. Perhaps we're better off exchanging shopping for salvage. The poem's a dumpster heaped with jewels and trash, flocked, if we're lucky, with iridescent grackles and clever sparrows.  

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"FINAL SALE ($245.94 Lord & Taylor" from Receipt by Karen Leona Anderson (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Karen Leona Anderson. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. www.milkweed.org 




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