Poetry June 2005

The Tattered Dress

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The day the royal court came through our village—
many drums and flutes, grandfather monkeys
with faces like fists and jewels the size of fists,
each elephant its own tree of blossoms,
a tiger on a leash, a pair of peacocks—

the old Emperor did not choose me:
he chose my delicate sister. Our poor family
shrieked and clapped and pulled their hair, thinking,
plenty rice each year. And what does she think,
in the Emperor's lap, inside the palace walls?

I did not put away the beautiful clothes
but wear them out among the buffalo,
wear them out in the field, in the standing water,
the filthy water that breeds our meat and drink,
my bent back a flash of scarlet and gold

that scatters the ducks and aggravates the swine.
Why not? Do I have some other calling?
The dull human oxen point at me:
one-almost-chosen: what
the lesser gods thought I could withstand.

Their judgment, too, I can withstand.

 

Ellen Bryant Voigt is the author of six books of poems, including Shadow of Heaven, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Vermont.
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