Dressing Down, 1962

By Lesley Wheeler Lesley Wheeler
“Shalom,” called the pink-shirted man in the Oceanic   
Terminal of Heathrow, and I snapped,   
“I do not want to talk to you.” Manic

with fear, I extended one pointy-tipped shoe, tapped   
the message home. My cases bulged with the wrong   
clothes, every outfit trimmed with clipped

English, fit for telephone jobs on Long   
Island. Rwanda, Algeria, and me   
declaring every kind of independence.

My skirt and I were green, not the pretty   
pistachio that Jacqueline Kennedy wore,   
but the color copper develops in the sea,

cold and unfortunate, the green of storms   
that have never squalled before. My hat,   
gloves, and I were pale, not plush like the warm

blonde women settling in their seats   
and bubbling dipthongs to their husbands;   
not even poignant, like the champagne satin

that Marilyn Monroe was buried in.   
Just neutral, stale as a biscuit, off   
as an old cup of milk. I was stubborn,

I would do what I said and leave   
England. I would ride that El Al jet, mystery   
novel in hand and never grieve.

Johnny Carson, The Jetsons, and me.   
A new wardrobe in cartoon hues. Meanwhile,   
my row-mate slipped off her court shoes, free

toes wiggling in hose. “We all went to Israel,   
almost all of us on the flight, and are returning   
to South Carolina,” she explained in a drawl

that frightened me more that the turbofan   
wailing beneath us. In her sundress, her stomach   
looked soft. Ungirdled? Does everyone chat with a twang,

even the Jews? I do not want to talk,   
but here I am, midair. “Coffee,” I replied   
to the hostess, slowly. I will never wear slacks,   

but I can unfasten each word, open it wide.

Source: Poetry (September 2008).

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2008
 Lesley  Wheeler

Biography

Lesley Wheeler’s books include Voicing American Poetry (Cornell University Press, 2008); Letters to the World, with Moira Richards and Rosemary Starace (Red Hen, 2008); and Scholarship Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2007). She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

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