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Skirt, My Pretty Name

Lynn Crosbie
From:   VillainElle. in Queen rat: new and selected poems. Toronto: Anansi, 1998.

and the space between my name and myself grows larger until...
—David Demchuk, Rosalie Sings Alone
After several Valium and a cup of coffee, I
           feel sweet and contented. The city is dangerous,
prurient, and I am a woman of mystery. I ask
           the waitress for some napkins and whisper,
My husband's brains are in my hands. I ask her
           to regard the blood and tissue, the horror of my
dress. I am wearing tinted sunglasses, a chiffon
           scarf, patterned with lemons and cherries.
My wig, my hair is concealed, it really is awful,
           a cerise-coloured rat's nest and it itches, badly.
When I leave, I move smoothly through the streets,
           clutching my shopping bags; I fit my key into
the lock and gaze at my calling card, that reads:
           Skirt, my pretty name.

I am applying Lee press-on nails and listening to
           The Magic of Mantovani. I am having a nervous
breakdown, You don't bring me flowers, I remember
           coming home once and finding a sprig of lilacs
on my doorstep and I held them and thought of him I love.
           He was a merchant marine, and I was his
novitiate. I held conch shells to his ears
           while he slept, so he could hear the sea,
the sheets billowed like sails when he kissed me.
           He would powder my nose, he traced his fingers
down my thighs, my flaw. He was never, he was rarely cruel to me.
           When he left, I wore a mourning veil and sewed
starfish over my eyes. I cried like a siren, I slashed my
           wrists with a broken bottle. It lay on the carpet
shattered, with a silver ship in its neck.

Weeks in the hospital, without perfume, or candy,
           and I still have no friends. Yesterday, a man
came over to me and screamed about the accident,
           the blood! I shrank, smaller, into my sweater
and imagined I was somewhere else. The women in the
           restaurant smile when I take their pictures
with a pink Instamatic and offer them
           spoonfuls of chocolate, my number. I am staring
at the telephone now, willing it to ring, cradling it in my
           arms and my stomach is turning. I beat myself
with my fists, my loneliness is relentless. I see its constancy
           in the spreading bruises, the green and yellow echoes.
I am the quietest object here, I could rest here always, never moving.

Only breathing, the faintest shadow, slowly
           turning the pages of my library book,
Fashion in the 1970s, and naming the dances
           under my breath. I would step from side to side
and do the hustle, but I am tired and solemn.
           I am the light that jewels their white pantsuits;
the mirrored disco ball made of shattered stars.
           The dancers sway beneath me in an orbit
and sometimes stare, with a comb or a tissue.
           They see that they are broken, mortal,
and they look away.

Lynn Crosbie's works copyright © to the author.

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