Leather Coat

By Maxine Scates

Featured Art: Star Flower by Mary Altha Nims

“It’s only a matter of time before eternity,”
reads a sign in front of a church, turning the day
epigrammatic. But rather than think of the time I have left,
I think about all that goes wrong. For instance,
how did that cow, an Angus, red tag in its ear, die
by the side of the road? Did someone shoot it
because it stood as still as the time I’ve already spent
does not? Its coat was still shining, sleek as that coat
I’d only dreamed of buying all those years ago
until a boy asked me out on a date and I finally
had somewhere to go. I’d already saved the money,
and did not consider whether or not such a coat
was too hot for L.A. I thought instead of the stars
I ushered to their courtside seats in my hip-length toga
at the Fabulous Forum, the stars who followed the ass
I’d only gradually understood I’d been hired for,
the stars who wore leather coats, shiny and supple
as their skin when they stepped from the lengthening dusk
of fall days like the gods they were without ever
breaking a sweat. So on my day off I opened the door
to Discount Leathers, which smelled of barnyards
and fields I had never seen though now I think
of that smell as more like the roadside of lingering death
where I hope the cow’s carcass has mercifully
been picked clean by vultures leaving nothing behind
but bones and a dull hide. I picked my coat
quickly, laid my cash on the counter and got out, but
not before I saw the smirk on the salesman’s face,
not before he saw how I believed that cloaked
in my coat my skin would be soft, my hair glossy,
saw how I knew nothing about anything, all of it
a mystery in whose maze I was certain I wandered
alone. I don’t remember the boy or how the date went.
The coat was too hot. It was heavy and felt like the hide
that it was, stiff and unyielding. I took it to the cleaners
up by Sears Liquors and whatever they did turned it
whitish, marbled as a slab of meat. I stood at the counter
and paid for it and never asked what had gone wrong.

Maxine Scates’ fourth book of poetry, My Wilderness, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in the Fall of 2021. Her poems have been widely published in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Ironwood, Court Green, The New England Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Plume, and The Virginia Quarterly Review and have received, among other awards, the Starrett Prize, the Oregon Book Award for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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