Dress Form

Myself I'm like a dress my mother made
me, a fabric self split open with a sigh
as I grew and—bewildered or proud
or full of rage—patched with nicer
material than we'd had before. I got
the sense it was all wasted on me.
But a needle's sharp to pierce, is itself
pierced—so as to sew like I was taught.
Like I learned: no dress could ever be
beautiful or best if it had me in it.
I was the stain in a place we couldn't fix.
Having fallen on a slicer of some kind.
Double-seamed, scabbed over, a new body
pocket in the pattern. How to stitch up
that wound right into the clean vertical rip
in some on-sale flannelette?
I'd never again be cold. Skin's holey not holy.
In mad winter alone with drink, I think:
tattoo needles don't use thread but ink
to mark a place in this ever-moving skin
and that wound is ornament. But who
needs a mark to know what's marked?
I would pray to the dark in the dark.
But what did I ask for, what did I know
to ask for? Nonfatal wounds: they're there
when we die, deliquescent, vibrating like a drum
skin just after each beat moves off.
A part of music. A way a body keeps time,
is time's keeper, vigilant till time up and goes
to find another body. Another's warmth
and shelter. Or related injuries. Anyone
who hurts another was hurt that same way,
so how far back behind our backs do we go
to finally find the first hurt; whose finger
points to say, "You! You're the one who god
knows why started a cycle of unending pain,"
to someone's child in short pants?
A baby just torn a hole in her amnion swirl?
And what of me? I can't tell where my flesh
meets the rest of me, ragbag full of rags,
shot full of holes but that's just the way cotton
and silk and everything I said up till now looks
when it hits the air and is cried on. I'm so inside
out I evaporated entirely already as August does,
my actual dress shredded at the seams—
unsalvageable. Who would ever love me like this?
And just like that, I stopped thinking about it.
I agree to meet you at the ferry heading to a place
neither of us wants to go but both just said
sure, I'll go... if you want! We should turn back,
nobody said. Oh we should before it's too late,
nobody said again, insistent this time.

Brenda Shaughnessy, "Dress Form" from So Much Synth. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: So Much Synth (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
More Poems by Brenda Shaughnessy