Clichés about Angels or How I Decided on a New Philosophy and a New Style All in One Fell Swoop
I don’t really want to make sense of my life anymore.
I just want to find the right dress:
Something vaguely Elizabethan with a huge skirt
in midnight-green velvet. I want that dress
to eat the light. I want that dress
to turn me into an Elizabethan Black Hole in every room I enter.
I want that dress to gravitationally consume
anybody I never much liked anyway.
And not a few noisome strangers while it’s at it.
I want the petticoats, busk, farthingale, corset, laces
and 25 yards of dense, voluptuary silk velvet to
delineate the space designated by me
as me/mine/I. I want that dress to detonate
when I offer my hand to be kissed.
Whoever’s doing the kissing should find him/herself
buzzing like the nap on a wool velvet armchair—red, most likely—
with his/her ears pierced by a couple shards of, say,
windshield, or plastic champagne glass,
or a couple of feathers from a bored angel.
That dress, it’ll skip right by philosophy and become fabric.
Since I’ll have become the dress, eventually I’ll skip
right by being either a philosophy or a bird. I’ll be 25 yards of
thick silk velvet in a green so dense
it passes for black when the light’s wrong.
When I pick up those skirts to curtsey, you’ll see
I’ve gotten flocks of angels to turn into my petticoats
which look like spiral arms of the galaxy.
They’re out of fashion—the angels, not the petticoats–
and need someplace to hang out. The arms of the galaxy
have been ready for aeons to wrap themselves around something warm.
After all those years of listening to us blather on
about the velvet darknesses of space,
those arms long to know how actual velvet feels.
The angels, the galaxy, and me:
Oh, brave vibration.
Found in a Pile of Someone Else’s Postcards: An Anti-Ekphrastic
Not a postcard at all, just a photo of an
enormous Mannerist painting of The Adoration of the Shepherds.
You know it’s Mannerist because all the colors are super-charged
and it’s hard to tell how the bodies got torqued the way they are.
Except the bright baby.
He’s blond—the fuzz of hair is almost a halo—and too relaxed.
The mother holds the sheet back from him like she’s revealing
a birthday cake or a magic rabbit, and the baby’s dead,
no matter how roseate and lit up.
He often is in these paintings, and you know the point’s to play out
all those weighty questions about how the body this child inhabits
is really just a chrysalis.
The cherubim hang out above and watch the scene like it’s television,
and the shepherds beam like the glowy lump is the best word
they’ve ever heard. The Old Masters or their patrons loved this stuff—
the odd babies seated, bare-bottomed, on the cold stone lips of their sarcophagi,
or in their enthralled mother’s laps, reaching up to pinch a nipple.
You wonder whether the brain is just a museum full of Mannerist paintings
and stained documents. What’s the difference, then, between the wings of cherubim
and a thousand sheets of careful calligraphy tossed
from the upstairs window of an archive
by a scholar who’s seen enough?
You decide to settle the matter by repainting the crèche at your church.
Every piece was somehow grey—grey kings, the-same-grey animals, grey Joseph,
grey Mary, grey baby—as if he were a chameleon and was taking on
the greys of everyone else, and the manger and straw as well.
You pull out your paints mix.
The angel’s hair flames copper and its wings become pearl.
The kings wear purples and their mantles’ borders glitter.
The Virgin and Joseph shine softly in their new reds and blues.
The cow’s gone brown, the sheep creamy white,
but the mule has mulishly remained grey, though his eyes now spark.
The shepherds’ robes are all the colors of dirt, rough linen, and black sheep’s wool.
The baby’s just asleep; his cheeks bloom rosy with life,
and the straw around his head’s gone bright.
Devon Miller-Duggan teaches for the Department of English at the University of Delaware. Her first book, Pinning the Bird to the Wall, appeared from Tres Chicas Books in 2008.
Q: Why are black holes so very compelling, even absorbing?
A: Black holes are perfect metaphors for our relationship to the extra, extra large and extra, extra seductively terrifying nature of the universe—a physical manifestation of everything we don’t know. And they’re so useful to science fiction writers…
Q: You seem to have some acquaintance with the intricacies of Elizabethan dress. A past life? Have you ever donned a farthingale?
A: Nope, never worn one. I’m a creature very much dedicated to comfort and I can barely stand an underwire in a bra, so corsets and farthingales are not likely to show up in my wardrobe. I do like clothes with lots of fabric, though so I can make an entrance. Maybe in a past life. I’d prefer to think maybe in a future life. Certainly in my fantasy life.
But I’ve always been enthralled by clothes, particularly by historic costume. I wanted, for a while, to be a theatrical costumer. But then I found out how actors treat costumes…
The dress in the poem is a specific dress. It was worn to the Academy Awards sometime in the early ’70s by Sarah Miles (the Emily Prager of my generation). It was a black-green velvet Elizabethan gown. She must have borrowed it from some costume shop. She was drunk off her ass, but the dress was gorgeous. I’ve never found a good picture of it, but I’ve never forgotten it either, though I suspect I’ve altered it a bit in my head over the years, if the one partial photo I’ve dug up is any indicator.
Q: You’re planning a dinner party for the Mannerists. Who would you invite– and how should they be seated?
A: Ye gods. Michelangelo was famous for his dislike of bathwater and abrupt manners. Bronzino and Pontormo would probably need to be separated if they weren’t going to spend the whole evening talking only to each other, but I’m not sure who else I could sit with the famously twitchy Pontormo next to. Parmigianino would probably spend the whole evening trying to figure out how to perform alchemical experiments with any food he didn’t recognize.
I think I’d need to bring in some other folks if the evening wasn’t going to be a disaster. Three art historian friends, maybe, in case the Mannerists were not so good at talking about anything other than art. Several of my wittier and more socially functional friends. Michelangelo next to me because I was obsessed with him in my early teens. All the food brightly colored—that would be absolutely necessary. A white tablecloth and lots of crayons in baskets. Can I have fictional characters, too? Lord Peter Wimsey. I always thought he’d be the best-ever dinner guest no matter who else was at the table.