"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

This Road and Lord & Taylor + Tea Leaves

This Road and Lord & Taylor + Tea Leaves

This Road

This road runs in lines. This road runs in groves.
The Broadway of giggling black transvestites lanky as swaying saplings.
That was 1976, I think.
This road runs in streams. This road runs in bridges.
Back to before the time that I knew mother mice gave birth in glove compartments
During hurricanes.
Women gave birth on pine needles, on tabletops, in parking lots, if they had to,
Well before this road had exit ramps to suspended animation and Mars.
This road runs from the cunt to the tongue inside the visible body.
Put on blue jeans, and all women are cross-dressers.
It is sexist to say that these days. Women can put their bodies into whatever they want.
No one owns this road.
Men have always smoked with other men. This road runs down the throat to the cock tip.
Even men who do not smoke, smoke a cigar with other men.
This road runs in twisting hairpins and intersecting cartography.
Today, 2018, I saw a man painting his fingernails sparkly blue and waving them like little starry
skies. Then, he kissed his girlfriend.
This road never stops, never stops, never ever stops running, even, especially,
During hurricanes.
On this road, even men can be mothers. On this road, everyone can give birth.
Now, two streaky-haired lesbians are hugging each other on Telegraph Avenue, their bodies
clinging together the way, in the wildwood, new Spring moss clings to old rocks.
This road is a ribbon of light through invisible time.
This road runs away from itself, but it will always lead to home, again and again.

Lord & Taylor + Tea Leaves

Floral print, off-the-rack, but classy,
A sundress with a fitted bodice
And a flare.

A dress that was capable
In a ladylike, but breezy way–
Breezy as a rare June day–
Of remaining crisp, yet easy,
In a multitude of situations.

Lord & Taylor, no icon or tag
Showing, nothing commercial,
Nothing to draw attention
To the product. Just the perfect
Little sleeveless sundress that could fit
In anywhere.

For instance, this dress could walk
Seamlessly from lunch
(in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art
with out-of-town parents) - Dali, Darjeeling,
Day Lilies and duty -
Into a crash pad in a burnt out West Side railroad flat.
There, it could sit, posture perfect,
In a broken kitchen chair
Never flinching,
Never wrinkling a pleat,
Just sipping Mu Tea
As skinny musicians tightened up their tourniquets
Just below tanned, tuned biceps
And jazzed their pulsing blue veins
With a sweet spring day’s worth of
Freshly, spoon-cooked meth.

This dress, so prim, with a print like flowered wallpaper,
Could blend into professor-pleasing sherry parties,
Drink iced tea, never changing its shape
As those soft hands that had fingered years of dry
Academic material, sneaked along a bare kneecap
And up a thigh to search for something wet
To quench their thirst for knowledge
From a new primary source.

Lord & Taylor could, politely,
Flirtatiously, but firmly, swish away
In a not now/come hither/
au revoir
And, make sure its hemline was still
Straight, intact, and perfectly in place.

Lord & Taylor, emphasis on Lord, here
Could pick up a homeless man at the Plaza Fountain
On a balmy eve,
A bum with burn marks on his arms-
His ponytail graying red, his schitzo declarations
That he was (tritely) Napoleon - and follow him
Into a Mid-Town coffee shop and order
Good old reliable Lipton in a greasy mug, and
Be instructed on the counter etiquette
Of lesbian pick-ups, without crumpling
One poof of its carefree silhouette.

Even sitting, skirt folded sideways,
On a linoleum dorm room floor,
With a pot of Earl Grey,
Door closed to frightened roommates,
Throwing the “I Ching “with homeless Napoleon,
To prestidigitate his willing disappearance,
Lord & Taylor retained all the composure it had shown
Hanging unworn on the “Better Dresses” rack.

And before compliant, trite Napoleon left,
Sent by the falling yarrow sticks into the Cosmos,
Subservient to the hexagramic code:
“The maiden marries an older man.
Undertakings bring misfortune. Nothing that would further”,
He gave that dress the best advice anyone ever gave.
“Never break the promises you make to yourself.”
And it was evident, then, to fitted seams and smooth silk lining,
That every burn mark on his arms was a broken promise,
But, being Lord & Taylor, it took this,
Like everything else,
In its perfectly pressed stride.

And then, Lord & Taylor, emphasis on Taylor, this time,
Was off to a tea party with the dowagers
At an exclusive club for
Stuffy people who valued exclusivity more
Than life itself.
“Charming print.”
“Pretty neckline.”
“So, demure.”
“Flattering cut.”

And, today, no one understands
What happened
To that dress, or to that
Homeless man, or to that
Proper, unwrinkled world,
Or to the Lord & Taylor effect,
Or to the all the promises.
Somehow, with everything else going on,
The marches, and the protests, and the assassinations,
The bursting Blue Jeans Revolution,
No one thought to study the tea leaves.
Even the dowagers, now, potter
About their gardens in faded “dungarees”.

Lord & Taylor, still in business,
Sells blue jeans, white jeans, fuchsia jeans.
Even paisley jeans - distressed, bejeweled, flared, or slimming.
And still sells dresses:
“Cocktail & Party Dresses”,
“Day & Casual Dresses”, “Evening and Formal Dresses”,
Dresses for everyone and for every occasion.
Even some dresses reminiscent of
That dress.
But, the Department of “Better Dresses” is gone for good.
And that particular pattern
Is never coming back.

Wendy Insinger is a fiction writer and poet interested in exploring the crash-up between gender, history, media, and self-talk - the things that haven’t been said, the things we don't say and the things we don't think we can say. Currently, she is working on two novels, one about gender distopias and one set in the Bronze Age. She co-hosts Milkweed Poetry Workshop. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals including "Chronogram", "River Poets Journal", "Philadelphia Stories", and "DIRT Magazine". Instagram: @theinsinger

Cover photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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