My Father's Lesson
My father pressed shirts in a factory. His long fingers pinched
the edges of collars so they would stay crisp. He laid out sleeve
after sleeve like newborns and decided their sharp creases.
He nosed the tip of the hot iron into each cleft, then squinting,
he seared down the cuffs. He sidled the iron around rows of
buttons. They clattered in protest, plastic beaks against metal hull.
On to the back, where he would coax the cloth into curves. He
knew the power of the pleat: to leave no trace of its giving way. At
the last, the shirt would cling to the end of the board while
my father, with a final burst of steam, squared the shoulders.
Weight-bearing, they must hold no wrinkles.
It is such a great pity that I can't present this poem as it appears in Eileen Chong's
book – 'burning rice'. In the book the text is beautifully blocked, a neat parcel of
unforced, finely-observed imagery. But in spite of not being able to square it all
off in this blog, I like the poem too much not to present it.
'burning rice' was first published by Australian Poetry as part of their New Voices
series. Then it was short listed for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2013 and
republished by Pitt Street Poetry.