AN UNDERTAKING Poem by Jeffrey Harrison


6. His Socks

Starting with the tumulus
on the floor beside his dresser,
clean but not yet put away
(now never to be put away),
a cairn of soft rocks
at least two feet high,
though many of them were not
balled up into pairs
but loose, or tied to their mates.
There were more in the dresser,
more on the closet shelves,
nests of them, like litters
of some small mammal, sleeping—
or dead, like the litter
of newborn rabbits that froze
when we were kids.
We buried them in a shoebox.
In every box my father
and I went through, no matter
what it contained—old papers,
framed photos, cassette tapes—
there would always be
at least a few more pairs,
and the one who found them
would call to the other,
"More socks," in sad amazement,
or exasperated bafflement,
because, for the life of us,
we couldn't find an explanation.
And what might have seemed
one of his endearing foibles
we couldn't keep from seeing
as some dark obsession,
one more thing about him
we hadn't known, would never
understand. Who could need
so many socks? Nylon dress socks,
gym socks of white cotton,
gray wool hunting socks
with an orange band on top,
even a few, from deep
in a trunk, with name tags
our mother had sewn in
decades ago. Enough socks
for several lifetimes,
though his one life was over.
Socks whose heels were worn
to a tenuous mesh, others
in their original packaging,
but most somewhere between.
If I'd taken them all I never
would have had to buy
another pair, no matter
how long I lived. But I
kept thinking of his feet
and how those socks would
never warm them again.
I took only a few pairs—
loose-fitting cotton, gray—
to wear to bed on cold nights,
my own feet sheathed
in the contours of his.

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Jeffrey Harrison

Jeffrey Harrison

Cincinnati, Ohio
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