illustration by Ruben Castillo

Something odd. Something off. Something particular, peculiar about the way the tailor sweeps the steps in front of the shop this morning. A sunny morning, a Monday morning, a late winter or early spring morning, depending on how much you might be tilting toward some semblance of hope in this particular moment. This particular moment of invading forces on the other side of the world. This particular moment of more death from war, death from disease, from despair. So much death. Such mourning. Such a morning for something odd about the way he sweeps.

You are driving past. You are driving fast to get your daughter to school on time, last minute. A minute passes, you turn the corner, turn your head, and there he is. Sweeping. Sunshine swinging its way around the corner of the building, causing light to catch and make glisten the dusty remains of the rock salt on the pavement following last week’s heavy snow. Making glisten, to catch light and cause to glisten. He sweeps the dust. He sweeps the scraps of leaves. He sweeps
the glistening salt.

He wears — truly — a well-tailored suit. He looks fine. It suits him right, right here in the sunshine. Above his head, a shop sign: TAILOR – ALTERATIONS FOR MEN AND WOMEN. Most of his time spent taking measurements. Inseam, torso, bust. Most of his time spent threading a needle, stitching, aligning. Most of his time spent altering. But on this sunny morning, this particular moment, he is measuring strokes of a broom, he is threading a clean line through the dust, he is altering a small corner where the sidewalk meets the steps and door of his shop. He sweeps in a particular way, a peculiar way that strikes, catches, captivates you.

Strike. Captivate. Language of war. Airstrikes over Kyiv. Dissidents held captive. And yet, still here: the broom against the pavement, the tailor in his suit, the sunshine. As if for this moment, this is what he can do. As if in this moment he is one man, head heavy of thoughts and hung down, gazing at the ground, hands clutched around a broom handle, doing what he can to clean one small corner of his world, this particular place where it seems heaven and hell keep company on earth. This place, this peculiar latitude and longitude, this particular seam.

Something odd. Something off. Then it occurs to you: He could be anywhere. A shopkeeper, a tailor, a human being wielding a broom. He could be anywhere else in the world, and he most certainly is, in a sense: shopkeepers in a thousand places upon this planet’s thin layer of pavement, sweeping their own corners. New York, New Madrid, New Delhi. Kansas City, Kyoto, Kyiv. Borders between them becoming blurred, boundaries blasted apart, dust everywhere. Dust layering up. Dust returning to dust.

Yet here he is. A tailor, wearing clothes fit only to him, his body, his own bold self that is no one else. No one else, not anyone else’s exact shape and size, not anyone else’s precise bends and bows, creases and cracks. Not anyone else’s particular form that is somehow impossibly inconveniently frustratingly wonderfully unlike anyone but him. And perhaps that is what catches your eye: He seems to know this, seems to be possessed by the knowledge. He seems to wear it upon his sleeve: He is the only one set down in this place, at this particular moment, who can clean up this particular mess. He sweeps. Defiantly, he sweeps. Against the odds, he measures this seam. He threads the needle. He alters.

CategoriesLiterary Visual
Andrew Johnson

Andrew Michael Johnson is the author of two books: “The Thread” and “On Earth As It Is.” His essays and poems have appeared in “The Sun,” “Image,” “Guernica,” “Crazyhorse” and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Charlotte Street residency, an Arts KC Inspiration grant, a Rocket Grant, a Vermont Studio Center residency and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. 

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