First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.
And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.
Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.
You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.
The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.
What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.
So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset
and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.
Just wonderful! I need to read more poetry. It's something I was never really interested in but I feel the lack of nowadays.ReplyDelete
Oh, my lord. I'm completely breathless.ReplyDelete
lol, you said breathless, too. I loved every second of it...but those last lines...ReplyDelete
*happy, happy sigh*
Meljean, I know! I just sat there staring at those last lines. Full of awe.ReplyDelete
What beautiful prose -- I'm in awe!ReplyDelete
Love, love, LOVE it!!
(new to your blog, picked this up from Meljean's blog)
Hi Dottie! Glad you dropped in. He really is talented, isn't he?ReplyDelete
Wow! Billy Collins does it again. Have never read a poem of his I didn't like. Thanks for posting this!ReplyDelete
Ah, yes. Now you see why it's one of my favorites. :) I found it years ago and was never quite the same. I'm glad you also enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
Jama, you are welcome. I really couldn't help myself after reading it.ReplyDelete
Chelle, thank you so much! Who knows how much longer I might have gone without reading this one? Too long, that's how long.
Billy never disappoints!
Hey, Kelly! He does not. And it was so fun to find a new one.ReplyDelete