Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
—William Butler Yeats, from The Circus Animals’ Desertion
My grandmother worked in a rag shop. That’s what the family called it, and as a child, I understood it to mean precisely what it sounded like: a business in our hometown of Jamestown, New York, where rags were made. According to Grandma, the Salvation Army provided her employer with the raw materials, donating the clothes the thrift shop couldn’t sell. I used to picture Grandma sitting ramrod straight among coworkers, ripping shirts, pants, skirts, and dresses into pieces, while she told her ribald stories, making people laugh and laughing along with them. [Read more…]