Canticle In The Fish's Belly

How to get to it:
               the heart within
the corset
               made of whalebone
and Parisian leaded satin,
                              winter weight.
 
I can barely breathe.
 
Sun filters from high windows
               into this dark-paneled room
 
where my sister helps me step
into the skirt,
                              our grandmother’s grandmother’s
sent-for dress, its pinprick satin buttons
down my chest.
               We hook each hook
to hold the corset flush,
                              to anchor
the bustle, as she did for her quiet
February wedding,
               snow covering the steeple
of the Seamen’s Bethel.
 
                              Melville: This, shipmates, is that other lesson:
 
fasten the locks, hold the heart
within its watery chamber.
                                             When the seamstress slid
the bone into the bodice
               and pinned each
cut piece together,
                              the satin stood upright
at the sewing table.
She could almost
               see it breathe.
 
I am swallowed
and swallowed whole. It outlasts
                              all our vows.

 

Rachel Richardson, "Canticle In The Fish’s Belly" from Hundred-Year Wave.  Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Richardson.  Reprinted by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.
 
Source: Hundred-Year Wave (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2016)
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