“I wasn’t afraid of beauty and in fact wore beautiful things” – Robin Behn

Beautiful dresses foreground and background: that’s what the movie
was all about – although anyone could see it was about inventing the soul
by taking love to task – how love looks, subdued, stylized over time,
when it becomes a casualty of itself – if what it is about ever resides fully
in the film of things. There were dresses framed by doorways
(where we ran to in the earthquake to model our catastrophe).
There were dresses seen in hallways – red against a lacquered apple green
or green against a Tibetan red (which transforms the delusion of attachment
into the wisdom of discernment and represents the tongue). Kimonos
in fine brocades with mandarin collars. A blue dress on a rooftop
against a flinty night sky, the neon faltering, the dress anxious as the actress
smokes up a storm. Clothes are the strangeness of the body asleep
with its leprosy and dreams. “A manifold cunning Victory over Want,”
Carlyle said. Want puts on clothes, but Victory steps into and out of a dress.
Please, unzip me. What makes the dress beautiful if bias cut, or what’s stylish
or altogether not, I don’t know, and of the circular, pleated,
tiered and trumpeted, which is best? Empire? Shift? Is it the figure
of oppression to be ripped or the cover of the sisterhood? What do
the fissures and the slits in the kimono mean? “Matter exists
spiritually,” Carlyle thought, but thought itself is excess:
an embroidered form with a lot of language, some Scottish,
some Xhosa, and a premise that what we put on isn’t really us,
but a feeling we found. The I is a burlesque, a measure of skin
or a bag of sweetbreads. The dress is the body’s velocity. I pit this
dress against the missing weapons. And then outside the movie
I saw blood in the middle of the flower of Queen Anne’s lace
and language vanished like a dress come off and the body
vows to remain on earth. I couldn’t see through it, but I felt
the fabric of the distance and the threads spun and run through
the warp of the loom materializing something around you.

Bruce Smith is the author of five books of poems, most recently, Songs for Two Voices (University of Chicago, 2005). Poems in this collection have appeared in The Best American Poetry, 2003 and 2004. His fourth book, The Other Lover (University of Chicago, 2000) was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, The American Poetry Review, and many others. Essays and reviews of his have appeared in Harvard Review, Boston Review and Newsday. He has been a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship as well as twice receiving grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Arts.