Most of us will never touch a Klansman's robe, or want to touch one. Rachel Richardson, who lives in North Carolina, here touches one for us, so that none of us will ever have to.
The first time I touched it,
cloth fell under my fingers,
the frail white folds
softened, demure. No burn,
no combustion at the touch of skin.
It sat, silent, like any other contents
of any other box: photographs
of the dead, heirloom jewels.
Exposed to thin windowlight it is
exactly as in movies:
a long gown, and where a chest
must have breathed, a red cross
crossed over. The crown, I know,
waits underneath, the hood with eyes
carefully stitched open, arch cap
like a bishop's, surging to its point.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org ), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2009 by Nystrom, from her most recent book of poems, "Bad River Road" (Sarabande Books, 2009). Reprinted by permission of Nystrom and the publisher. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to '06. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.