Crepe de Chine

I went to a poetry workshop online, and this was one of the poems discussed, by the incomparable Mark Doty.  You have it now, even though you didn’t go to the workshop! Sorry to be late with it…but this virus seems to eat time!

Crepe de Chine

These drugstore windows
—one frame in the mile-long film
of lit-up trash and nothing

fronting the avenue, what Balzac called
“the great poem of display”—
are a tableau of huge bottles

of perfume, unbuyable gallons of scent
for women enormous as the movie screens
of my childhood. Spiritual pharmaceuticals

in their deco bottles,
wide-shouldered, flared,
arrayed in their pastel skylines,

their chrome-topped tiers:
a little Manhattan of tinted alcohols.
Only reading their names

—Mme. Rochas, White Shoulders, Crepe de Chine—
and I’m hearing the suss of immense stockings,
whispery static of chiffon stoles

on powdered shoulders,
click of compacts, lisp and soft glide
of blush. And I’m thinking of my wig,
my blonde wig, and following the cold sparkle
of pavement I’m wanting not
these shoes but the black clatter

and covenant of heels. Next door
the Italian baker’s hung a canopy of garlands
and silver shot, bee lights and silk ivy

high over the sugary excess
of his pastries, and I want
not his product but his display:

I want to wear it,
I want to put the whole big thing
on my head, I want

the tumbling coiffeurs of heaven,
or lacking that, a wig
tiered stunning as this island.

That’s what I want from the city:
to wear it.
That’s what drag is: a city

to cover our nakedness,
silk boulevards, sleek avenues
of organza, the budding trees

along the avenue flaunting their haze
of poisonous Caravaggio green . . .
Look how I take the little florists’ shops

and twist them into something
for my hair, forced spiky branches
and a thousand tulips. Look, my sleety veil

of urbane rain descends, unrolls
like cinema’s dart and flicker, my skirt
in its ravaged sleekness, the shadows

between buildings raked and angled
into these startling pleats,
descending twilight’s gabardine

over the little parks and squares
circled by taxis’ hot jewels:
my body

made harmonious with downtown.
Look how I rhyme with the skyscraper’s
padded sawtooth shoulders,

look at the secret evidence of my slip
frothing like the derelict river
where the piers used to be,

look at my demolished silhouette,
my gone and reconstructed profile,
look at me built and rebuilt,

torn down to make way,
excavated, trumped up, tricked out,
done, darling,

in every sense of the word. Now, you call me
Evening in Paris, call me Shalimar,
call me Crepe de Chine.

—Mark Doty
Atlantis (HarperCollins, 1995)

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