Catherine Ormell

white shirt

Poem White Shirt

The boss arrives in a pure white shirt which is so unironed, it looks like an origami made by a thousand busy hands or the Himalayas in plan,

randomly marked with complicated ridges and triangles, almost an artwork, it flirts with the tectonic, no, no, it is worse, far worse than that.

Yet the boss’s smile floats above it, disembodied. And, contagiously, a floor of men are roaring now, big cats with vast healthy gums, tails like sjamboks;

their unexpected merriment flings itself round the megalith a brazen string of ping-pong lights brightening this supernumerary court in the City, 

though the women, who are mostly rookies like me, can’t really fathom this laugh’s… longevity? (But, hey, we are just learning the ropes.)

Ropes are learnt. Thirty years on, I clutch a snowy shirt too tightly, fling it down, and then I look him up. Not dead. Smiling for all he is worth, online.

A survivor. Like the City, which nudges St Paul’s, the Tower out of our eyeline, dizzies each high street, town hall, each combe with queasy banknote talk. 

In the backstory, he had a wife with four under six. Pristine and crumpling; breathing and recoiling, the white shirt rages on in memory. 

Shortlisted for the London Magazine Poetry Prize 21/22