The Dress

Then it will stand alone and listen to the new silence,
feel the empty air breathe in and out and where it will,
filling old creases, blowing away warm impressions.
Itself again, chaste, regal, as if it had been waiting
for this moment to return to its mannequin form;
delicate husk, untouched, unworn, it can hang now
if it wants, swing its lonely folds behind a door.

In time it might forget the body who lived inside it,
that quick and lovely thing whose eager skin filled
to bursting every curve and seam. It might forget
the first stain, the nips and small tears, the cunning
unravelling of thread that followed as a matter of course before
the final tumble, the fumbling, the cursing and the rip
when it was thrown across the floor to lie, flayed

– perhaps ruined, as it had to be taken away,
laid out beneath an interrogation of lights
where a man in a gown, in a whirl of steam and gas, bowed
his head to the task: to remove the occasion from the dress.
And when it was done he wrapped it up and it shone
from so much attention and loss, its intimate tucks and folds
re-pressed, dry, clean and beautifully stitched up.

by Greta Stoddart

from At Home in the Dark
Anvil, 2001
Copyright © Greta Stoddart 2001

This poem is from Greta Stoddart’s debut collection, an outstanding book for which she was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for 2002. Like all her poems it bears re-reading and mulling over. Jo Shapcott wrote of her that she is ‘an unnervingly good poet. Her poems are deceptively serene, characterized by an elegiac tone under which a suggestion of unease constantly shivers . . . always musical, always true, these are poems to dwell on’. The way this poem withholds and then reveals the dress’s history in the final stanza shows Greta Stoddart’s skill in what one might call the manipulative side of dramatic poetry, if manipulative were not now a word with negative connotations.

Greta Stoddart was born in Henley-on-Thames in 1966 and grew up in Belgium and Oxford. Having lived and studied in Paris and Manchester, she now lives in London where she works as poetry tutor at Morley College.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern.