Black Dress

Julia Kasdorf

Black Dress

Poised as a cruise ship, Maxine Kumin
passes through the crowd, willowy and gray,
someone's grandma by now but still lovely,
and my mind goes straight to Anne Sexton-
a sex pot in a coffin. Kumin says
they shared one reading outfit
down to the shoes. I see pointed pumps,
smokey hose, and a sleeveless cocktail sheath
shuttling between them, long phone calls
between suburban kitchens
to arrange who'd pick it up
at the cleaners, who needed it next
or who needed it most, as if success
could be shared that simply,
both of them knockouts at the podium
and so often mixed up, Sexton joked
"They can't tell the kook from the Jew!"

I need to believe they shared
the readers' desire as easily
as they shared their ambitions-
how they read each new line
to the other's breath on a Princess phone.
Or their despair-how they shared babies
and breakdowns as all our slim mothers
did, stiff smiles and shifts captured
in photographs, their bare arms like fish
tangled across a dress's dark platter.
I need to know how Kumin finally survived
her own beauty, and how she keeps writing alone-
how she finally stands here in defiance
of anyone who'd concoct a cautionary tale
of her life.


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