It starts with Inspector 29, her nervous tics
and squinting eyes gone bad on the search
for the wayward thread or almost invisible discoloration.
Or should I say, it starts with the apparel,
on their hopeful parade from production line
to seller’s rack. But there’s always somebody judging,
saying yay or nay, fast track or going nowhere fast,
fine department store or strip mall cheap boutique.
As for me, you’ll know me by the labels
on the clothes I wear.
Gathering up the also-rans, the factory seconds
that stumbled under scrutiny, I who was always the last
to be chosen for the blacktop kickball teams, I celebrate
irregulars! those mail-order pantyhose marked down
for their slightly wavering seams, the snags that only
Inspector 29 can see, the skirt unevenly pieced together
by the anonymous sweat shop sewing machine operator
who must’ve had a really rough night. I welcome
their cut-rate selves into my home, sisters in imperfection,
standard-bearers and tainted saints of human error.
Once my breasts were a perfectly matched set.
But life comes along with its caustic shadows
on mammograms, its ambiguous cysts.
Life with its imperfect science, the winking
of uncertain stars. Like those forced choices
where vanity meets cancer in a face-off for a good
night’s sleep and next day when you wake up,
you find your right breast sporting a jagged new smile,
sagging a bit smaller than the left and thankful for it.
After awhile, you hardly notice the difference.
There are times I see Inspector 29 in my dreams,
smug as the angel of cleanliness buzzing about
the right hand of God. She plucks me easily
out of a line-up of department store wannabes,
with my collection of scars, my uneven teeth and
too big smile, my piles of papers cluttering every
available surface. She drops me into a large vat
along with all the other misfits where we are slapped
with Irregular labels: Inspected by 29. Loaded
into boxcars and destined for bargain basements,
We are assured, if merchandise doesn’t move
within thirty days, further markdowns will be taken.
“Irregulars” first appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, vol. 29 no. 1.