by Robert James Russell
I never realized before that denim isn't denim.
What I mean to say is,
denim is cotton.
Cotton dyed with indigo.
I knew what indigo was, of course
I knew, yes, what cotton was.
But I didn't realize putting these things together
created this new thing.
And I'm thinking about it right now
because I have sharp elbows, see?
And my favorite denim jacket has a hole
where elbow and denim meet,
where pink skin now shows through
and earlier I was picking at the hole, the frayed edges
making it bigger
and then I noticed a mole, the kind of mole
I don't remember seeing before
odd-colored and misshapen.
I'm sure it's nothing
Yes, I'm healthy, I exercise
but there are things out of our control,
like when my aunt was hospitalized
for the polycythemia vera.
Her blood clotted too fast,
it clotted, would not stop clotting—
see, when she was younger, she owned a gym
led all of the aerobics classes herself.
She wasn’t a large woman, but she was strong, voracious;
she took up the room, any room she was in,
owned it completely.
But when I saw her in that hospital bed
writhing atop those scratchy bone-white sheets
she was sunken, scrawny
thrombosis had set in
and she'd had a toe amputated.
And her eyes, then, when I saw her, were enormous
set in her now-skeletal face,
drinking our pink faces in,
us, looming over that bed
in groups of two or three.
I hadn't seen her since high school,
since her daughter's second wedding
and I'm remembering now for some reason
the jean jacket she wore when I was a kid.
She always had it on,
stonewashed and oversized, as was the style
she, shrunken in it, my smiling, wild-eyed aunt
engulfed by its enormity
as if inside that denim, that tightly-woven cotton
inside, the only safe space she'll ever know.
Robert James Russell is the author of the novellas Mesilla (Dock Street Press) and Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing), and the chapbook Don't Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at robertjamesrussell.com.