Anatomy of a Dress

Dotted Swiss, velvet, marabou, tulle—
            braille your way bolt by bolt,
thinking Rapunzel, Snow White,
            Goose Girl shedding feathers,
and though the candy counter
            is hawking chocolate and popcorn,
your hunger doesn’t break the spell.
Open your eyes, and your mother’s
            already in notions,
choosing from a rainbow of spools.
            Smart in her car coat and leopard hat,
she matches zipper and ribbon to thread
            for Easter dresses.
You page through pattern books—
            Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue—
and find the numbered envelopes
            in squeaking metal drawers.
Salesladies with glasses on chains
            unroll the bolts in thumps
then snip diamond quick.
At home, trim around the tissue’s
            paper doll notches,
which she will fit to you
            like Peter Pan’s shadow.
Trace darts and pleats with a toothy wheel,
            and cut out the bodice—
you think “little body”—
and skirt. Match bobbin to top thread
            and you’re off! Knee
to the treadle, lilac flowers inside,
the seams pressed open and pinked.
Baste in the sleeves with her help,
and watch her stitch in the zipper,
tie a grosgrain bow at your waist.
Twirl on a green chair,
            while she slips pins from her teeth
to mark the hem
            before it all unravels,
replaced by a glassy mall
            and sweatshop dresses.
Pose alone
            in a blue-black sheath
before a silent mirror.
Bid farewell to her remnants
            and tray of spools, all the freight trains
of Hammond, the elevator ladies
            spinning gilt dials with snowy gloves—
gone the hum and clack
of the dipping needle,
miles of seams in its wake.

Karen Kovacik is the author of the poetry collections Metropolis Burning, Beyond the Velvet Curtain, and Nixon and I. Her work as a poet and translator has received numerous honors,including the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum, two fellowships in literary translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fulbright Research Grant to Poland. She’s the translator most recently of Jacek Dehnel’s Aperture (Zephyr, 2018), a finalist for the 2019 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and she’s the editor of the anthology of Polish women poets, Scattering the Dark (White Pine, 2016). Professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, she served as Indiana’s Poet Laureate from 2012-2014. For contact information, please visit her website:

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