Why Do I Go To The Thrift Store?

As I am decluttering my home, donating loads of clothing, I am reminded of how amassing stuff started, and why, upon arriving in the land of plenty.
Why do I go to the thrift store
whenever I got the blues/am not here/hate being here?

I don't know, but by the end of this poem
I hope you'll know.
Listen, the Saturday mornings, the spring Saturday mornings
with blue skies and fluffy clouds
with gentle breeze and warm air
scare me.

On Saturday mornings
when people peek into their car engines
when they do the laundry and clean the house
that's what I do too:
clean the house and do the laundry.
Wash the dishes and cook.
Make sure my son
finishes his social studies project
on rescue vehicles.

I have papers to grade on literacy narratives
my students are waiting for their grades.
I have to read three chapters on I-for-the-other
and I-for-myself, two short stories, one on a control freak cop
and his drowned teen daughter,
another one on an uterusless woman
with a husband ready to adopt a Chinese orphan.
I have to write and read and talk and smile.
It's Valentine's Day.

Then why don't I read and talk and write?
This is what I wanted to do all my life.
Read and talk and write and get paid for it.
I am successful. I am in full bloom.
Why don't I do it on this perfect morning then?
Why do I call Emmanuel, an illiterate friend with HIV?
Why when he tells me he didn't call being afraid
to wake me up too early
I ask, “What are you doing there?”
and when he tells me,
“Cleaning the house with my brother,”
I say, "Aha! Here you are. So do I.
Clean, wash, scrub.
I hate this! I hate this!
Take me to the thrift store."

"I don't want to go to the thrift store,
but I will come over, park my car in front of your house,
teach you how to drive after the basketball game."

"Alright. I'll drive in the parking lot."

And he comes and he parks and he goes to the basket ball game
with my son
to let me write and read and talk in peace.

And what do I do?
I sneak out, like when I was a teenager, going to the disco,
unconcerned about the curfew.
Father would beat me anyway….

And I trot towards the nearest thrift store,
three blocks away from my house.
I step on green grass,
avoiding the gray-predictable-confining sidewalk
looking at the tiny flowers, a marvel in the grass, yellow, tiny flowers.
Should I pick some?
Flowers. Little fresh yellow and purple flowers.
No, no, no. To the thrift store.

Why am I alive? What am I doing here?
This is it? This is it all?
Am I not doing the things I love to do?
Am I not loved?
Am I not alive and happy?
Why do I hate the sameness of my happiness?
The routine of my happiness? My achieved happiness?
The sameness of the rhythm of my happiness?

I pass by the seafood market
and I promise to buy shrimp. Lots of shrimp. A bucket.
But I don't. I cross the street, safely,
hoping one car would suddenly U-turn and
razor by me,
do something,
make me feel alive.
But I cross the street safely, while cars are still not in sight
and I enter the thrift store with its rows
of colorful dresses and blouses,
coats and shoes
ball dresses and suits, jeans and fluffy pullovers.

I start systematically. I swiftly finger the earrings.
Among the cheap plastic I find some lovely sand dollars,
and totems and bronze penny-like cooper leaves.
Tiny earrings. Someone's hands shaped them, painted them, put them together.
10 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar a piece.
I am a collage artist, seeking pearls in the muck.

I move to the Valentine cards section.
My son needs some for his class exchange.

And I read them.
It's the first time I read Valentine postcards.
We don't have them at home.
My beloved sent me a real heart photo
saying St. Valentine was lynched
because he helped the Christian martyrs during the Roman pogroms.
I wrote him back I'd cook it
on Saturday spring afternoon with onion rings.
I am loved.

I read:
"To me Valentine's Day is just like any other day,
because all I can think about is you."
And another one:
"I'll give you warm sleepers when your feet are icy cold.
I'll give you tasty chocolates in a box shaped like a heart
and I'll give you warm hugs as long as you don't fart."
And lovers share their best T-shirt and secrets
and spoon-sleep. And pink I love yous.

I buy a bunch of them.
I won't send them to anyone
but I'll read them to myself.
It's not cool to sob over Valentine’s Day postcards.

I move along the shoe racks. 50 cents a pair.
I put some in my basket.
Shoes can be cleaned from sweat and grease of others' soles
with chlorine.
Auschwitz piles of shoes. The Shoe Fashion Museum.

I go to the dresses racks
and I put some in my basket.
I go for different lengths,
up to my ankles,
up to my knees,
up to my calves.
I chose different colors, green the color of my eyes,
red the color of my lips,
grays and yellows, that go well with my skin.

I even go to the fancy dresses rack!
I pull out some shaped like cabbage leaves,
all of them shoulderless,
with glitter on them, with diaphanous foldings like exotic fish wings,
with huge breast cups, with small breast cups, with no breast cups.
All of them fishshshsh under my fingers.
A princess dress for a dollar.
I pile them on a sofa, since my basket is too small.
I pull out pieces of cloth from the bin,
this and this and this,
the yellow and the spring green and the Mardi Gras purple,
90 cents each.
I'll make shawls to cuddle in. Muffle up.
On the East Coast where you are beloved they are in fashion
and I always loved muffly shawls, loose ends.

Then I pick up glasses and vases,
imagining them shiny with cleanness
and bubbly with champagne we'll drink together.
Imagining huge rooms with flowers in vases
and you smiling at my splendid arrangements.

Now I'll try on all that pile of dresses.

Shoulder pads. Why do women need shoulder pads?
I always cut them off the delicate cloth.
I collect them. I want to make a decorative quilt or a pillow with a see-thru case, like a transparent skin, to see the stuffing inside, falsifying shoulder pads.
Authority. Manly-power driven-unsure-of-themselves-shoulder-padded women.

One dress doesn't fit around my neck,
this is too tight,
the other one is too stiff,
this one is stained,
the other one is too large.
I imagine the women that lived in them.
All the women whose skin touched this clothe.
I know I will never stop going to thrift stores. Ever.
I will never want new clothing. Ever.
I want clothing like me: with a history. With a past.
I want to be in a communion,
embodying their lives.

Who donated them? The family of the dead.
Of the young suicidals.
The girls who grew fat.
The girls who throw away the gifts their ex-lovers gave them,
trying to forget them.

I don't want to pretend like people do here,
that time doesn't pass.
People here in America want new-new-new lives,
new things, new bodies.
Aging doesn’t exist here.

I want history.
I want to love my things.
I want to caress and hug my things.
I want memory and affection.
I want to wash and mend
and wear them with pride and confidence.

I keep ten of them.
I look over them in daylight
to make sure I want them indeed.
Oh, one of them has a vomit stain on it!
I impulsively throw it aside, on a cardboard box.
But them I repress my own revulsion.
I'll soak it and wash it and it will be a happy dress again.
A rich drunk girl.
Her mother bought it for her from a fancy store
and she got drunk at a fraternity party
and they tried to rape her while she was vomiting.

Why people in this shop don't wash the things?
I'll do it. I am a dirty Gypsy.
My ancestors ate cadavers of horses and hens.
I am a Gypsy.
I'll wash the vomit.
Make my dress with faded green flowers
happy again. Romantic.

I'll vomit myself at times…. I'll wash it.
Some teenager messed it up.

I pay and I trot back home
with my bounty.

The sky is blue.
The tiny flowers stand uncrushed on the greeny grass.
The stadium roars.

The HIV friend laughs
at the 25 cent walking stick
with rear mirror and honk that I bought him.
He takes me to the highway where I can scream my pain,
hit the car seat with my knuckles, yell my pain, begging eyes,
laugh away my stubborn pain.
"I don't want to be alive, I don't want to be alive.
I don't know why I am alive for,"
I tell softly my friend.
"Why do you say such things?!" he scolds me gently.

"Well, you told me of your HIV
so I tell you of me.
I don't want to be alive…."

"Why do you say such things?"
"Why am I alive, then?"
"For a purpose. For a purpose."

I say nothing.
I look at the fuzzy coopery hair on his arms.
He seems eternally young and health.

Blue skies and fluffy clouds.
The red sun, as if it follows us,
runs with the car along the horizon,
until it plunges into a thick strip of clouds,
plunges like a comet.

My friend gets excited about a new building
they made on the right hand.
About the piles of dry vines they cut from the neglected plot.
"Gooollly! They did some good work."

I look at him.
He might be dead in a year or so….
Getting excited about what?!
About other people moving in new luxury apartments
while he'll be skinnier and skinnier in the hospital?!

I'll implode.
I can do much more.
I can perform in front of millions of people
I can write the PLAY OF THE CENTURY, and what am I doing instead?
Teach students show-don't-tell
Cookie-cut essay format.

I don't want to be cookie cut!
Your mom said, when I told her I would like to go to the thrift store,
She said, driving her casket black Cadillac,
"Do you mean discount store?"
"No, thrift store."
"But you don't want to go there.
You don't want to touch those stinky, dirty things.
They sell there what I throw away!
You don't want to go there."

I shut up astonished. She squelched my free will.
I am supposed to abide by your standards.
I am to be an ideal daughter-in-law,
with a life like in a fashion magazine.
I am not supposed to go to the thrift store.
She'd give me her silverware, she said.
She'd give me her gilded china.
I don't want her gilded china.
I don't want her silverware.
I don't want to be her duplication.
I don't want to be her marrying her son, my lover.
I am me. I am not a replica, do you hear me?

Now we know why I will always go to the thrift store.

Baton Rouge

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.

New York
September 28, 2013

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