I think the Metaphor is lost in the end. Loved the build up and conversational dynamics. But I felt the rolling up of sleeves went nowhere. Maybe that's what you planned. I had to think a little too much to get the drift of the poem though. Retard that I am.
I feel this is not a whole poem but actually a figure from a greater dissertation and a moment from a more meaningful story; and so I want to read more of it! I guess most short poems are like that, but this one really makes me curious about your novel plot with the brilliant metaphor of the rolled-up shirtsleeve.
The last part of this piece was written very well. The way you compared the falling of sleeves to a small conversation that in the end had no real meaning and yet no real loss either. When I see the phrase "Words were exchanged" I usually picture it as a way of saying feelings were expressed, whether they be rage, distress, sadness or what have you, but the details of the words themselves didn't matter, or in fact were so insignificant that they were easily forgotten to be quotable. If anything both parties acknowledged something through the conversation, like you notice a sleeve, and nothing more. A sleeve, like the conversation, that was easy to give up on. Amazing how we all are guilty of talking (or writing) but in the end we aren't saying much of anything at all.
I think I'd play around with the tense in the opening strophe and also look at trimming it down minutely.
I like the use of 'nerves we felt'
that's the natural
so it's a preparatory school? of self-consciousness and yes Mr Bentley in that we're acting how we are taught to act.
v what is very natural. (nerves). So, it's awesome that detail and the little segue you have there tying it all up so perfectly. (conceptually) But what I find is the beginning of the poem is more like the clumsiness of an idea v the realization of that conceptualization (as it relates, technically, to the writing). I understand what I mean there cos I have many poems where the idea sits like a shoe caked in mud rather than the plaster cast of a shoe.