The Latest Fashion: New Toilettes, a poem
(title and subtitles from an essay by Mallarmé)
I. An At-Home Gown in Garnet Velvet.
I receive you at my front door, formally, immaculately dressed, delicately arrayed, impeccably scented. You think of me as I last appeared at the beach, tousled, salt-encrusted, and burned by the sun, dusted from scalp to toe with golden sand. You see underneath my gown a double exposure — the natural, the cultivated — which rises up so that my two brown eyes turn to four, eyes within eyes, nudity within garnet velvet.
You think of wine, the vintner’s trembling hands caressing grapes, silently pleading with them to reveal when they will give up their most perfect secrets. We live for moments such as those, we live to take up our wine in a crystal goblet and put it to our lips and breathe the scent of rain, sun, earth and sweetness. Sweetness which has by virtue of aging embraced its opposite — sweetness which has given birth to tart recognition.
We are both innocent as three-year-olds and jaded as madams. You touch the supple velvet, but what you are feeling is the smoothness of my insides. I remember the sound you made, long ago, an explosive sound which you tried so valiantly to muffle. The report of your exhalation was echoed in each cell of my body. Garnet velvet becomes a skin I will shed. Nothing before was unskinned. I will turn myself inside out, only for you.
II. A Hostess Gown in Gray Russian Satin.
Together, we receive cadres of admirers — come to look upon our glowing faces, hear the way we laugh, breathe in the air of passion which surrounds us. We understand this loveliness we display is not ours, rather on loan merely, a magnification of the same electric forces which keep every atom together, proton and electron and neutron dancing their way in a wild mazurka. Those atomic particles, those rapscallions.
My gray dress hugs my body tightly, exposing each curve, revealing my body but keeping it a magnificent secret at the same time. When your fingertips slide across my shoulders, the fabric moans, and the assembly gasps. I can take no credit for my beauty, only for the courage to allow it free rein. And I count every electron of your body, I feel the whirling clouds as they circle your atomic nuclei, endlessly proclaiming not beauty, not usefulness, but truth.
Please be advised you are in the presence of ananda. Or at the very least, maple syrup. Even the trees know. How the sparks flew when first we met! We confused the friction with dislike, at least until you saw me lick my lips. Gray satin reminds us of the cries of mourning doves, the way they’d scatter as your car pulled into my driveway. Such murmurings as felt like satin threads, pulled through my heart. You came to me. I will stay found.
III. A Frock for Paying Calls in Plum-colored Faille.
We deign to visit the world, after a twenty-three year sabbatical, and everywhere we go the air matches my dress. The moon becomes a large opal, the sky an onyx abyss into which I fall upward, tethered only by your voice. When you laugh, I hear my father. I hear the way he held me, our skin where it touched on fire with longing only for more bare skin. He died too soon, and so did I.
My skirt is cut on the bias — when I walk it moves as the tops of the Australian pines moved that day you first kissed me, at the beginning of hurricane season. You and I ask our hosts if they are prepared, but they don’t understand. Once, you lusted for books — 27,000 of them — 19 cartons fit into your truck, each trip. The hardwood shelves groaned under the beautiful weight of your hope. Please, don’t read too much into the facts. What do the pages tell you? Do you remember when you hated me?
It is so difficult to construct a garment on the bias, I must consult experts in the field. I show them the dress I wear, ask, can you make me the same dress, in the same fabric, over and over. I want nothing varied, because in this dress is all the world. My father has been dead now for longer than I knew him. I still see his hair, iridescent red-gold feathers, under my fingertips, my nails painted purple. I asked for you. I found your succulent eyes.