The House Dress


At the level below ground
in the dark crevices between stairs
weeds thrive like splinters of glass.
Between houses, alleys, a wagon’s width
where horses once slept standing.

By five o’clock the streets darken,
a cat’s cry or the ring of steel
as boys beat links of school yard
fences. Upstairs, our mothers are making
riddles inside pots: a bone shank,
marrow leaking pearls—an onion
bobbing like the sun.
I don’t know when whispers
of the street will come and find me.

I imagine our fathers
as street boys in knickers, caps.
They unroll their Police Gazettes
and leer at Petty girls in drawings.
Fathers never married high-heeled
blondes with garters and cleavages.

Our mothers were fashioned on lathes
in red mud factories of Alabama—
dipped in vinegar and lye-filled vats.
They were stamped onto cloth drums
like raw material of those house dresses—
yellow or green with flowers, whip sashes.

Every woman got to keep the dress
on the day she married. My mother
had one, my friend’s mother had one,
the neighbor in the apartment above us
and the one below us.

Even now as I walk through autumn weeds
I see a shadow on the old stoops,
the shards of glass. In the distance
ghost arms waving in my mother’s dress.