poem index

Textile Galore

This notebook contains poems about clothing, and their tragic or beautiful stories.
Textile Galore
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Dialect of a Skirt
Erica Miriam Fabri
The young girl wanted a new voice. After all, people got
new things every day. A new hip, a new nose, a new set
of suspenders. She adored the consonants that landed
like wooden shoes. She loved the type of L-sounds
that made a mouth drool from the back of the tongue
to the front. She practiced her new voice into seashells,
tin cans, caves. She gave her first performance quietly,
into the ear of her sleeping dog. She could tell by his snorting
that his dreams were of fat tree trunks and black, truffle-filled
soil. Later, she drove to the local gas station and used her new
voice to ask for a pack of cigarettes. She wasn't wearing a bra,
but the attendant didn't notice. He was too busy listening
to the way sound seemed to drip out of her mouth
as she said the word, Camel.
Textile Galore
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Dressmaker
Éireann Lorsung
Nothing touches like tan velvet touches
the palm. Now the cracks come, because what gives
without taking?—Doesn't exist. Say

you forget what is lanolin, what is raw about fleece
uncarded & unwashed. Say the silver feel
of charmeuse lines your sleep. You've lost

what there was before pins & needles, sound
a scissors makes through cloth on a hardwood floor,
thick waist of the dressmaker's dummy. Don't tell me

any more. Without Burano lace, without cinnabar
strung on a cuff, shantung and satin and netting and swiss:
no rich man, no camel, no needle's threatening eye.
Textile Galore
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Shirt
Robert Pinsky, 1940
The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms 
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers--

Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning."
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord.  Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.
Textile Galore
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The Plaid Dress
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950
Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear?—
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence high judgments given here in haste; 
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Bright hair,
Lining the subtle gown. . .it is not seen, 
But it is there.

Textile Galore
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My Shoes
Charles Simic, 1938
Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.
Textile Galore
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Coat
Peg Boyers
At eleven I learned to lie.
Disobedience and its partner,
deception, became my constant companions.

How enormous then that first transgression,
against Father's command, a sin damning as Adam's:
walking to school alone.

We all lied, mother explained,
it was. . .necessario.
How else to survive

Father's rages,
his sweeping interdicts
and condemning opinions?

Oh sweet allegiance of lies:
siblings and mother bound
together in a cozy tie!

My brothers' lies
were manly, 
obdurate, built to last.

Mother's were infirm little things,
infected from birth by her obstinate grace,
fated to die as soon as they hit the air.

But this lie, the lie about me, was sturdy,
knit, as it was, from the fiber of maternal love
and a wife's defiance.

Go ahead; it's right.
Walk alone. Grow up.
Each assurance a coercion, each coercion a shame.

The lie was a coat of mail
I'd don each day, threading my arms
through its leaden sleeves,

pulling its weight over my head,
steeling myself
for my father's wrath.

In it I was strong and getting stronger,
but tired, always tired.
Oh to rest, shuck the lie and confess!

Father forgive me, I knew not what I did!
At night I'd rehearse the lines
and pray for his cleansing fury.

In the morning I'd meet him in the hall,
already crabby in his gray lab coat,
barking his harsh observations

about my robe (pink: ridiculous)
about my face (vacant)
about my voice (inaudible).

Mother, how did we produce such an insect!

I was used to this.

Exasperated, he would stuff his red frizz into a beret,
hurl himself into his loden cape
and bolt out the gate--too rushed for truths.

Silenced again, I would resume my solitary mission, 
lugging my books, wearing my lie to school
and back again, through the maze of city streets.

One day the mist briefly lifted and I saw
the winter sun pulsing silver and pale
through a hole in the sky--a quiet disk

hopeful as the moon.
A face emerged, white whiskers smiling,
familiar, professorial--an angel perhaps,

or a friend of the family--
here to guide me safely
across the river to school.

He took my bag and my arm,
allaying my fears with talk
calculated to soothe, flatter, amuse.

Gentile, cosí gentile.
Ever faithful, he met me at my gate
morning after sweet morning.

We chatted carelessly the whole way,
intimate as lovers,
never a snag

or worry to hold us up--
I, grateful and happy,
he gently leading the way.

My trust deepened daily with his purpose
and burrowed 
in the snug darkness of short days

where the new lie took root.
From deep in the loam, the probing
stem pushed to the surface.

Meanwhile, the first lie grew light with practice.
And my coat assumed
the comfort of a uniform.

His purpose, obscured from the start by fear,
suppressed tenaciously
by innocence--canny innocence--

flared up in a question,
betraying an ignorance
both clear and obscene:

"Little Girl, would you touch me--here?"

Suddenly my hand, sweetly warming
in his flannel pocket, was pushed
to the hard, oozing center.

My hand recoiled.
But the ooze stuck.
In that minute my childhood ended.

I ran home as fast as my legs would carry me
to hide my shame in the place
where secrets were made and kept,

willful little liar, disobedient
sinner trying to find my way alone
through fog, through lies.

My life was filling up with secrets
and deceit's secretions,
loneliness and melancholy.

I hugged my coat tight against my body
so that the lies and I were one.
Textile Galore
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Old Coat
Liam Rector, 1949 - 2007
Dressed in an old coat I lumber
Down a street in the East Village, time itself

Whistling up my ass and looking to punish me
For all the undone business I have walked away from,

And I think I might have stayed 
In that last tower by the ocean,

The one I built with my hands and furnished
Using funds which came to me at nightfall, in a windfall....

Just ahead of me, under the telephone wires
On this long lane of troubles, I notice a gathering

Of viciously insane criminals I'll have to pass
Getting to the end of this long block in eternity.

There's nothing between us. Good
I look so dangerous in this coat.
Textile Galore
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"What Do Women Want?"
Kim Addonizio, 1954
I want a red dress. 
I want it flimsy and cheap, 
I want it too tight, I want to wear it 
until someone tears it off me. 
I want it sleeveless and backless, 
this dress, so no one has to guess 
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store 
with all those keys glittering in the window, 
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old 
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers 
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, 
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. 
I want to walk like I'm the only 
woman on earth and I can have my pick. 
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm 
your worst fears about me, 
to show you how little I care about you 
or anything except what 
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment 
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body 
to carry me into this world, through 
the birth-cries and the love-cries too, 
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, 
it'll be the goddamned 
dress they bury me in.
Textile Galore
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Ode to a Dressmaker's Dummy
Donald Justice, 1925 - 2004
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.
   --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
              O my coy darling, still
              You wear for me the scent
         Of those long afternoons we spent,
               The two of us together,
    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
                 Of household spies
    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
                         So high,
    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
              Which, often enough, at dusk,
    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,
              Shy figure of a bride
         You stood there then, without your clothes,
                  Drawn up into
         So classic and so strict a pose
      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
         Or was it only some obscure
      Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
         Crept up your ankles and you stood
         Hiding your sex as best you could?--
         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.