poem index

A Vision of Self

This notebook contains poems about clothing and how it can change the way people view themselves.
A Vision of Self
next
"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.
A Vision of Self
next
New Shoes
Honor Moore
She wore them with silk and black sheers,
Her winter legs twin moons under lace– 
New shoes. handmade, gleaming, polished
As a lake at twilight or a new mirror:
Fashioned for men, but cut for a woman.
He wanted her, he said, wearing those shoes.

Dreaming as they measure her shoeless,
A cobbler in Florence, his tape shearing
Her foot, no question a woman
Requires such shoes. Wear them with lace,
Signora, offering brush and polish.
The saddle's rough, but the toe will mirror

All he undoes, her each gesture mirror
His guiding one, as she rises in shoes
Made for holding ground, for polished
Floors, for business in suits and sheers.
When I wear them, she muses, will he unlace
And unravel me? Take have and woman

Me? His hands open her skirt, manning
And mixing until her face is his mirror,
Till he seats and unties her, untangling laces,
Loosening, pulling, prizing back shoe
Edge, cherry insoles flushed, he shears
The tongue from each sweat-polished

Instep. Forthright now, as if polishing,
She fingers his face, pale as a woman's
In fugitive streetlight, her hands sheer
Contentment, his eyes closed in the mirror
Hers are. Kick, he says, off with the shoes!
She does, fingers through his like lacing,

And his hand breaks from hers, unlaces
Stocking from garter, quick as a polish
Cloth snapping. Take off your shoes,
She says. I want you naked as a woman.
I like hair on shoulders, I like mirrors
When they tangle light. Outside sirens shear

Night as if a swerve of polish could unmirror
Sheer dark, the man and woman whispering
Always wear lace!  Do you like my shoes?

A Vision of Self
next
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.

A Vision of Self
next
Wedding Dress
Michael Waters
That Halloween I wore your wedding dress,
our children spooked & wouldn’t speak for days.
I’d razored taut calves smooth, teased each blown tress,
then—lipsticked, mascaraed, & self-amazed—
shimmied like a starlet on the dance floor.
I’d never felt so sensual before—
Catholic schoolgirl & neighborhood whore.
In bed, dolled up, undone, we fantasized:
we clutched & fused, torn twins who’d been denied.
You were my shy groom.  Love, I was your bride.
A Vision of Self
next
Duality
Tina Chang, 1969
Perhaps I hold people to impossible ideals, 
I tell them, something is wrong with your 
personality, (you're a drinker, you're 
too dependent, or I think you have 
a mother/son fixation). This is usually 
followed by passionate lovemaking,
one good long and very well meaning 
embrace, and then I'm out the door.  

In daylight, I'll tip my sunglasses forward, 
buy a cup of tea and think of the good 
I've done for the world, how satisfying 
it feels to give a man something to contemplate. 
The heart is a whittled twig. No, that is not 
the right image, so I drop the heart in a pile 
of wood and light that massive text on fire.    

I walk the streets of Brooklyn looking 
at this storefront and that, buy a pair of shoes 
I can't afford, pumps from London, pointed 
at the tip and heartbreakingly high, hear 
my new heels clicking, crushing the legs 
of my shadow. The woman who wears 
these shoes will be a warrior, will not think 
about how wrong she is, how her calculations 
look like the face of a clock with hands 
ticking with each terrorizing minute. 

She will for an instant feel so much 
for the man, she left him lying in his bed 
softly weeping. He whispers something 
to himself  like bitch, witch, cold hearted 
______,  but he'll think back to the day 
at the promenade when there was no one there 
but the two of them, the entire city falling away 
into a thin film of yellow and then black, 

and how she squeezed his hand, kissed him 
on his wrist which bore a beautifully healed 
scar, he will love her between instances 
of cursing her name. She will have long 
fallen asleep in her own bed, a thin nude 
with shoes like stilts, shoes squeezing 
the blood out of her feet, and in her sleep 
she rises above a disappearing city, her head 
touching a remote heaven, though below her, 
closer to the ground, she feels an ache at the bottom.
A Vision of Self
next
We Wear the Mask
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906
We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile 
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
     We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile, 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
     We wear the mask!
A Vision of Self
next
Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,   
Enwrought with golden and silver light,   
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths   
Of night and light and the half light,   
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;   
I have spread my dreams under your feet;   
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
A Vision of Self
next
The Poem as Mask
Muriel Rukeyser, 1913 - 1980

Orpheus

When I wrote of the women in their dances and 
      wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
      down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
      myself.
	  
There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
      child
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.
A Vision of Self
next
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.
A Vision of Self
next
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.