Poetry Porch: Poetry


Extravagant Dress 
by Kathryn Liebowitz 

Sister can you sew me a dress?
Skip the detailing and keep it straight;
Forget the scallops,
Drop the eyelet,
Cut the white
On white
I am no bride;
Leave the lace.

No flare,
No breadth,
But air;
So simple—Sister, can you
Such extravagance?

Sister, I have need
Of a violently 
Ordinary dress. 

Black, did I say black?
Or dun, even better.
Earth toned. Would that be ochre?
Would that be burnt umber? Perhaps.
That’s how Father would tell it;
He spoke in colors, and I understood.
“A little more blue,” he would say.
“A little more red.”

Mother had none of it. Or rather, too little—
She had too little warmth. She was
What you might call, on occasion—and I did—
A bitch. She came from Manhattan. Rich.
Want? She knew none of it. Loss?
Plenty. Or so we guess.
We don’t really know.
She never told us.
We’re innocent of her youth,
Orphaned by her lack
Of stories. Lack of past.

But I digress. This dress, 
Forgive me, Sister—
Once before you made me the dress
Of an antique girl: 
Cut from a pattern; of cotton
Streaming through your shears;
A dress of furbelows and flowers,
A Red Shoes sort of dress
That wore me as I wore it
Into my seventh year as queen of bees.

Sister, I crawled through mud in that dress.
I climbed trees. I played hopscotch in that dress,
Hide and seek, four square. 
I came home hot and tired in that dress.
Weary with its gallivanting,
I came home and threw it away.
But first I tore it and tore it 
As it had torn me.

Sister, let me weave the cloth; 
My severity becomes its lack—
Coarse homespun, plain as parting, 
And the burning away of old things.
(Lines shaken from old skin, Sister,
Like wrinkles from a dress.)

Sister, I entreat you—
No more than cloud
No more than smoke
Fluid as water
Dull as earth
Quietly cut 
No flare
No breadth
But air
Can you
Such extravagance? 

Copyright © 2003 by Kathryn Liebowitz.