Your One Good Dress by Brenda Shaughnessy

I’ve been picking up poetry books lately, and remembering how much I used to enjoy reading them and that I would like to again. Poetry, at its best, is the careful practice of the ‘economy of language,’ a back-to-school lesson in this season of back-to-school that all writers should return to now and then.

Here’s a poem I read, flipping through one of my old anthologies on the shelf, that ran a spark up the wire, a spark that said, “You must share this. It’s  good.”

Here’s part one of a new segment entitled, Other People’s Poetry that is Really Damn Good and You should Read It: So without Further Ado…


Your One Good Dress


should never be light. That kind of thing feels

like a hundred shiny-headed waifs backlit

and skeletal, approach. Dripping and in

unison, murmuring, “We are you.”


No. And the red dress (think about it,

redress) is all neckhole. The brown

is a big wet beard with, of course, a backslit.

You’re only as sick as your secrets.


There is an argument for the dull-chic,

the dirty olive and the Cinderelly. But those

who exhort it are only part of the conspiracy:

“Shimmer, shmimmer,” they’ll say. “Lush, shmush.”


Do not listen. It’s not part of the anti-obvious

movement and it’s sheer matricide. Ask your mum.

It would kill her if you were ewe gee el why.

And is it a crime to wonder, am I. In the dark a dare,


Am I now. You put on your Niña, your Pinta, your

Santa María. Make it simple to last your whole

life long. Make it black. Glassy or deep.

Your body is opium and you are its only true smoker.


This black dress is your one good dress.

Bury your children in it. Visit your pokey

hometown friends in it. Go missing for days.

Taking it off never matters. That just wears you down.


–Brenda Shaughnessy from The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry


About avy packard

I write things and read things and am still searching for the right words to light it all up. View all posts by avy packard

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