Yellow Polka Dot Dress
When their measurements were perfect,
wriggling in turn into its figure-hugging curves
the daughters shrieked: How the hell could Mum –
who bought it in a thrift shop a million years ago –
have ever squeezed into such a slinky thing? How
could she ever have been so thin, with a waist
– she says! – she could span with her hands?
In the style of downtown Louisiana, circa 1955 –
was that when Mum and Retro were born? – the dress,
and its itsy bitsy bolero shrug, has been around
for longer than they can mind, a keepsake
from the old dear’s youth, from fabled days
when she sashayed forth from cheap hotels,
turned heads – she says! – in Paris, Athens, Rome.
While it fitted like a snakeskin, the daughters
turned heads in Delhi, Kandy, Bangkok but
all too soon its tucks and darts defeated them.
Crumpled, straining at the seams, smelling
of cumin, dope, drains, they shucked it off.
Mended and mothballed, snug in Mum’s wardrobe,
the yellow polka dot dress awaits the grandbairns.
Black Lace Dress
Furred with ragstore stour,
with sifted grit, the brittle wings
of moths and other cloth-loving insects,
with the desiccation time brings
to everything. Hand-washed,
hung out on the green to dry,
to dispel the tell-tale must of age.
No matter how deft your touch,
no matter how warily you venture
down the dimming paths of the past,
its gaslit interiors, veiled glances,
murmured intrigues, whenever it’s worn,
the black lace dress deteriorates.
If, slipping it over your head,
you are rough, clumsy, caught up
with concocting a serpentine yarn
for its previous owner; if teensy hooks
snag on fraying picots; if, easing it
past your shoulders as you inhale,
your chest and ribcage swell; and if
as you twist to adjust a strap, a seam,
the threadbare bodice, it rips again
before dropping like midnight rain
to the floor, you’ll wear it anyway,
by candlelight. The black lace dress
was never meant to see the light of day.
Red was never her colour:
too brash and, before flame
became ash, it clashed with her hair.
She leaned towards moss greens,
field browns, clay greys.
Chiffon was never her fabric:
Floaty, diaphanous, it bespoke
an alien coyness. No-nonsense cotton
was more the thing or, for a cold spell,
ridged and furrowed corduroy.
Parties were never her style:
too much palaver, extravagance
yet she must have meant to make
a splash, to reveal – so very late
in the day – her frivolous side.
Eulogies were never her cup of tea
but death beat her eightieth birthday bash
to the door. With her otherwise muted
wardrobe, the red dress, never worn,
went straight to the charity shop.