Your One Good Dress

Brenda Shaughnessy

should never be light. That kind of thing feels
like a hundred shiny-headed waifs backlit
and skeletal, approaching. Dripping and in
unison, murmuring, “We are you.”

No. And the red dress (think about it,
reddress) is all neckhole. The brown
is a big wet beard with, of course, a backslit.
You’re only as sick as your secrets.

There is an argument for the dull-chic,
the dirty olive and the Cinderelly. But those
who exhort it are only part of the conspiracy:
“Shimmer, shmimmer, they’ll say. “Lush, shmush.”

Do not listen. It’s a part of the anti-obvious
movement and it’s sheer matricide. Ask your mum.
It would kill her if you were ewe gee el why.
And is it a crime to wonder, am I. In the dark a dare,

Am I now. You put on your Niña, your Pinta, your
Santa Maria. Make it simple to last your whole
life long. Make it black. Glassy or deep.
Your body is opium and you are its only true smoker.

This black dress is your one good dress.
Bury your children in it. Visit your pokey
hometown friends in it. Go missing for days.
Taking it off never mattered. That just wears you down.

Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of six poetry collections, including Tanya and The Octopus Museum. The recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute, and elsewhere, she teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.
Originally published:
April 1, 1998


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