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Girls and Simple Things

for RM, MM, EH, and the writers featured at in “Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets,” March 8, 2011

Once, I bought a dress in Madison, Wisconsin. A town
I’ve visited exactly once. The dress had black-and white
polka dots with hot pink crinoline and a hot pink sash.

I never wore it in that town. In fact, I’ve worn it exactly
three times, only in New York City. Only for the most
special occasions. Only with the right boots and right bra.

The right underwear, right hairpins, right lipstick, right
choker, bracelets, rings, and really, it’s an ordeal, this dress.
There’s padding where I don’t want padding. It puffs

where I don’t need extra puff. It wrinkles too easily and the
sash bunches but there’s pink crinoline and polka dots and it
is one of my favorite things because the day I found it, I was

with two women I love. Two women doting on themselves,
frivolous. The doting itself was permission and I am always
needing approval (to be nice to myself or cold

to the wretched or ruthless to fools), so this was a day
of permission. We had brunch then, with mimosas, and the
woman who cannot eat wheat wanted a new pair of shoes.
And the woman who laughs more loudly than everyone
wanted a new necklace. And I wanted a new dress to remind
me of the living, so we walked with swollen bellies

and mouthfuls of backtalk through the shops of Madison.
We tried jeweled sun glasses, wigs, extravagant rings,
gowns none of us could rightly afford but this was a day

of pretending. The clerk sealed someone’s rhinestone heart
in a box, wrapped someone’s silk cherry blossoms in tissue.
My nest of polka dots came home in a dull brown bag

where it stayed, at the bottom of the closet, for almost two
years until another woman I love moved away. For her goodbye
party, at a dive bar on the Lower East Side, I ironed, laced,

and fluffed. Wore the tallest boots, the loudest lipstick.
Knotted my hair with pins. She arrived in glitter eye shadow.
Knee-high boots. Feathers. A gown of hand-stitched sequins.


You want your father who is not here
and who wouldn’t be – not here, in New York,
on a night after too much dark rum;
a night after a girlfriend two thousand miles away
gives birth to a three-pound girl now roped and wired
inside a plastic box. Not here, a night where you drop to the floor
in a stairwell sobbing over the matter-of-fact-ness of the tubed girl
and her mama’s ‘just happy everyone made it through' email;
and the scarring hot scald of your own fractured child-less-ness.
You want your father. Here. Want him to tell you you’re smart
and beautiful and worth something to someone. To tell you
the girl will survive. That you will survive. That the boy
who left you on the side of the road wasn’t real.
You want none of this to be real, and it hits you here,
on the floor, breaking into bullets: it is too late.
This stairwell, this handrail. New York City wailing outside,
while hurricane Irene, who is really a small wet whisper, tells you,
Hush—sit on the floor. Now. This floor. This rum. This face, yours,
rancid as old cream. You want your dead heart to be a hummingbird.
Or jet fuel. You want a roadmap. You want your father. You want
to kiss the lips of a bridge. You want saltines smeared with mustard,
like mama used to pack in your Muppets lunchbox. You want
your mama. No, you want the lunch box and the boy named Jonathan
who made you blush. Jonathan, before he liked the other girl.
You want the boy named Miguel or Graham or Jon or Robert
or Dennis, before he liked the other girl. Before you fought
for him with yes/no/maybe notes, or poems with too many teeth.
Before you fought. Before you knew how to hurl a fist
or a regret a curse. Before you learned all the things you could break
with your hands. Before you knew the control of a baseball bat
or a tire iron or a .9 millimeter. Before you knew the power
of an uncorked bottle, a glass of rum, a spent tube of Xanax.
Before the pack of Rottweilers tied you to the bed, before the sharks
hauled you from the station wagon, before the boy with the bad poems
pried you open in your sleep. Before the night after too much wine,
after a night after too much whiskey, after a night after too much rum,
before the night – this night – here, on the stairs where the wind
is rattling the door and your girl’s girl is trying not to die and you
are trying not to die and all you want is another glass of rum
or a river         or your father            or a roadmap.

Jeanann Verlee is author of Racing Hummingbirds (Write Bloody Publishing), recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in Poetry. She has also been awarded the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, failbetter, and kill author, among others. She is a poetry editor for Union Station Magazine and director of Urbana Poetry Slam in New York City. Verlee wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you.

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