Poem of the Week | November 21, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Gown” by Thomas Renjilian.

Thomas Renjilian is a fiction writer and poet originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Vassar College, he received his MFA from Oregon State University and is currently a PhD candidate in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. His work appears or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, and other publications. He serves as an editor for Gold Line Press and Joyland Magazine, and he is the former managing editor of Ricochet Editions. He lives in Los Angeles.




My dad draped his dad in a trash bag,
a makeshift barber’s cape,
when his stubble grew too long.
If the gray shavings fell
down the collar of his flannel,
he wouldn’t be able
to wipe them off — too shaky,
already, from the Parkinson’s,
too uncertain if he was in this world
or a version that came to him — a distortion
of the library where he worked.
A season ago he’d chopped
his last logs for the pile out front,
found his final Cooper’s hawk
fallen dead in the leaves
of the neighbors’ woods,
dug one more hole
in his makeshift graveyard
for found birds, family dogs,
a pet rooster gone mad he’d had to
shoot three times to kill. He carved
the date into a sawed-off ring of pine,
placed it above the buried hawk.
Stay still, dad, my dad said—
Grandpa’s jaw wobbled
like a story, but I heard only
foam clumps drooling
from the Purell dispenser,
its faulty sensor tripped as if
by memory. The razor’s scrape
against skin I only recall
because I echo it each morning
making the memory less
memory more unreal,
like the library he disappeared into,
convinced there were books
to sort about his father and his
father’s father. I was
starting to think that maybe
hallucinations were an afterlife
come too soon. Scatter me,
my dad said as we left that day,
onto a golf course, a nice one,
or keep me in a whiskey bottle,
a nice one — no, actually,
too stuffy. I was the same age
my dad was when he’d wrap me
in a garbage bag I’d pretend
was a gown while he raised
his voice, and I twirled away


Author’s Note

While writing “Gown” I was thinking about what fathers and sons carry of each other in the echoes and imprints that pass through generations—how there’s sadness in the fallibility of memory but also a sort of freedom in the ways we distort and elude each other. The poem is indebted to my grandfather, a poet who wrote about mortality with a clarity and sensitivity I aspire to, and to my father, who taught me a lot about tenderness as I watched him take care of his parents in their old age.