Dress, Coda

Eternity’s plainly nude.
—Mark Doty

 

The smiling boy, seen in profile, looked at the toy plastic pocket watch in his paw.

Do you like it, my mother asked?

The face mine—and not.

In a one-piece terrycloth rabbit costume, zippered at the back, all white except for the pink that lined the ears.

We rabbits ran at 5-minute intervals.

I’m late! I’m late! we huffed, as human clusters followed us down the darkened hallways to the ballroom where the party began.

Each child rabbit photographed before the gala.

Shall I buy a set? my mother asked.

The boy at her side close to tears; she couldn’t see this wasn’t her son.

 

*

 

I’d seen the tag and bolted.

Broadway at 57th, the early ‘80s.

My friend Joan had led me to a sport coat rack in Charivari.

Breathe, breathe, I thought, sitting on the curb, nauseous.

Manhattan traffic a rough music in my ears.

You need something to wear, she’d said the day before.

For a friend’s wedding (whose brother, we’d been told, would bring Laurie Anderson).

I’d touched the tan textured fabric of an Armani.

A tiny subtle purple stripe every inch-and-a-half.

A fabric so perfectly lovely it was alien.

That’s the one! Joan exclaimed. And don’t look at the price!

 

*

 

Is the surface a depth, as a poet suggests?

I dreaded Halloween.

The cowboy’s greasepaint moustache, swoop of sideburns; a black eye and freckles for the hobo; the clown’s rouged cheeks and enormous red lips.

Who was this I was inside of?

One year eyeholes in the ghost sheet seemed preferable, though I could barely breathe.

Is the surface a depth?

I stumbled on sidewalks, my stride ill-fitted.

Weird tug of the fabric cat tail sewn to my tights.

Let’s hear you growl, a voice behind a screen door demanded of Smokey the Bear.

 

*

 

At three, his sister’s outgrown purple squaw skirt is his favorite.

Tiny pleats from waist to hem.

Fanning as he spins, its silver rick rack along the bottom sparkling.

In a black and white photo, a pale prairie dress with puffy sleeves.

He leans forward, hands pressed into knees, beaming at the camera overhead.

It’s me! the smile proclaims.

 

*

 

We biked at dawn down the centers of carless streets.

Two 10th-grade boys on knife-sleek matching ten-speeds (mine red, his blue).

Tubular handlebars, curved like inverted ram’s horns, wrapped in transparent tape.

Upright, hands-free, arms crossed on chests.

Identical, like palace guards, stone sentinels.

Our uniform: tan cord’s, black Converse, and hooded windbreakers (his red, mine blue).

I hated days we met unmatched.

Our ride, I sensed, awkward in its asymmetry.

Twinned felt like power. Like grace.

 

*

 

A blue velvet love seat in the corner; lacquered antique armoire and desk with ornate inlays.

I sat on the bed edge trembling.

Flown to Paris by friends for a celebration.

Unselfed by passage through the lobby’s luxury.

The chrome and marble, the crystal chandeliers; Deco patterning of furniture and fixtures.

The concierge, offering his services.

Hollowed; an imposter amidst the couture drapery of strangers.

Joyce wrote part of Ulysses here, I read online.

I didn’t know that then.

(The summer before 9/11.)

The five-star Hotel Lutetia, brief harbor for artist refugees fleeing the advancing Nazis; then, headquarters of the occupiers.

 

*

 

A monster, scaly, like a small tyrannosaurus rex.

Be like them, I chanted, be like them.

I walked the sidewalk, terrified of the humans streaming past.

Then, getting my wish, the only human in a swarm of monsters.

Be like them, I’d chant again, changing back and forth.

Each time, the one unlike all the others.

Until my mother, awakened by the crying, shook me.

 

*

 

I’d see them in Manhattan—at the Met Museum, Saks, Balthazar in SoHo.

Men in their 6th or 7th decade.  Sometimes older.

Manicured, in tailored pants, pressed button shirts. 

Beside them, their slimmer, younger doubles.

Model perfect in every detail.

Matched grownup walking dolls you might mistake for sons.

These were lovers; you could tell by the touches.

And by their glances at us, especially Morgan.

The T-shirt (spray-on, I called it) clinging to his muscular upper body; his boyish pretty face, tight jeans and flip-flops.

Beside him, in like attire, the gray-haired, spindly one.

(Trying too hard, my mother would call it.)

The one the nurses in ICU would ask, Are you the father?

 

Coda

Scent of scorched cloth.

The sweet stink of the pillowcase, retrieved at bedtime from a drawer, unwashed for weeks.

The stolen, sweat-rich T-shirt of a high school crush.

The drying concrete driveway, hosed of dust.

Creosote after rain.

Nose to nose, my dog’s humid breath.

The skin of Morgan’s neck, the hollow between his pecs.

Like the widow (Gail) who inhales as she wraps herself in her husband’s robe.

The mother (Morgan’s) sleeping in her dead son’s bed on unchanged sheets.

Reliably, again and again across a life: what’s outside breathed in, into depth.

Recalled to oneself.

 


Boyer Rickel’s publications include two poetry collections, remanence (Parlor Press) and  arreboles (Wesleyan), a memoir-in-essays, Taboo (Wisconsin), as well as a poetry chapbook, reliquary (Seven Kitchens Press). Recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arizona Commission on the Arts, he taught in the Arizona Creative Writing Program for twenty years. His poetry and lyric essays have been published recently or are forthcoming in Guernica, NOON, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, and Tupelo Quarterly.