YOUR INTERPRETER SENDS ME A HOUSEDRESS
When you return to Iraq or Afghanistan
you are given new clothes as gifts:
the long robe made of goat fur that, even folded up,
is the size of a small desk. The brown turban,
the rough cotton tunic and pants.
We have photos of you sipping chai in these clothes,
sitting cross-legged in the sun. Your teeth shine
as you laugh with the Iraqi interpreter
sitting beside you, holding bread in one hand.
When you leave he will be hunted by men
who come down from the hills at night
in white garments like stars crashing into Earth.
He will send you messages that say, My brother
until he is rescued by civilians
and sent to San Diego to work as a valet.
On your last day in Iraq he gives you a housedress
pressed flat in a plastic envelope and says
it is a gift for your wife: a woman who accepts gifts
from men other than her husband because she can,
because she does not know sending a dress to his wife
would be as unforgiveable as touching her hair.
The dress is meant to be worn indoors:
orange and yellow with flashes of red,
the color of so many explosions I’ve watched on the news:
balloons of flame that float over mosques and markets.
At home, in our dining room, I pull the dress on
even though I am ashamed of its slim waist
and fussy gold thread, the zebra lamé pattern
stretched thin across my broad shoulders
and barreled chest, the Virgin Mary languishing
on a tin medallion under my throat.
I am too tall, too wide and too plain for this dress,
too impatient for its shimmering neckline
and narrow sleeves. I feel like I am smothering it.
We hang it on one of your good suit hangers
at the back of our closet where it smolders
and gleams between my wool sweaters and jeans,
throws sparks of light into my shoes.
SITTING IN A SIMULATED LIVING SPACE AT THE SEATTLE IKEA
To sit in the simulated living space at Ikea
is to know what sand knows
as it rests inside the oyster.
This is how you might arrange your life
if you were to start from scratch:
a newer, better version of yourself applied
coat by coat, beginning with lamplight
from the simulated living room.
The man who lives here has never killed.
There is no American camouflage drying
over the backs of his kitchen chairs,
no battle studies on the coffee table.
He travels without a weapon,
hangs photographs of the Taj Mahal,
the Eiffel Tower above the sofa.
The woman who lives here has no need
for prescriptions or self-help,
her mirror cabinet holds a pump
for lotion and a rose-colored water glass,
her nightstand is stacked with hardcovers
on Swedish architecture.
The cat who lives here has been declawed,
the dog rehomed. There are no parakeets
shrilling over newspaper in the decorative cage,
no parking tickets in the breadbox.
When you finish your dollar coffee
and exit through the simulated front door,
join other shoppers with chapsticks
in their purses and Kleenex and receipts,
with t-shirts that say Florida Keys 2003
and unopened Nicorette in their pockets,
you wish you could say this place
is not enough for you, that you’re better off
in the harsh light of the parking garage,
a light that shows your skin beneath your skin,
the color of your past self,
pale in places, flushed in others.
WRITE YOUR POEM:
"We hang it on one of your good suit hangers
at the back of our closet where it smolders"
Object + Description = Story Ballad
Ballads used to be a poetic form that told stories.
Now we associate them music.
Abby's housedress weaves in and out and we
experience the all the characters and conflict.
What can you describe with a poetic form, and
leave the reader with a narrative?
Deconstruct a cereal box. Write you poem on the blank side.
Glue the box back together!