Red Defines

Red Defines

by J. P. Dancing Bear

(Poem Starting with a Line by Mary Ruefle)

How the red skirt and red stockings came into my mouth
is not painted anywhere within my cave,
nor do my inner historians attempt to explain what
happened. The soothsayers all noted the significance
of color was clear, then muttered over the stitch-work
of the hemline—the threading had sealed my lips

and the skirt and stockings moved more fluently
as though my tongue had become a Baryshnikov,
cumulus-like passing through empty figures
on their clotheslines. So many words filled
my mouth, I wanted to try each for sound
but found my frustration build within the forced silence
of my stitches. What mad science is this
that bloats my vocabulary
then leaves me speechless?

New dictionaries, unsanctioned by the government,
had been smuggled to the inner city.
I knew all the dangers and delights that redness
brings. I understood the language of feral cats
and why the moon in fullness looks about to duck.
My teeth mimicked the clicking of high heels
so convincingly that I lifted my head for a look.
Then I felt other words climbing onto the barges
and boats and floating down the river
away from a great burning library—
the skyline a brilliant bloody rose.

All the words for protesting had left their shops
and run out into the streets, the words
for stop and no also packed their carts and slipped
away before the flames raged.
Prayer came in long lines of water buckets
passed along the streets
to where the fire raged, its tongues pressed
against the books and scrolls.
But water damages too—therefore I cried.

Damn the stockings and the skirt for dancing
into my mouth. Damn the castanets
of my teeth.
I am changed
in ways that push me to my knees
and look out the barred windows
wondering if I’ll ever
learn to sing
the apparel of, and
these meanings of, red.


-poem refers from the word red in Rose Auslander’s fiction piece Dear Dad

  1. I love this referral — totally in harmony with the spirit of my story 🙂

  2. So glad you like it! I was searching for instances of “Red” on the site. This was a case where I was picking the referral, which can always end up with interesting results 🙂

  3. Too wonderful for my words. 🙂 Liked it soooo much. And Rose’s Dear Dad story? I hadn’t read that either and was taken away. The two together . . .magical.

  4. Thanks so much Debbie! Fun to see the power of referrals 🙂

  5. Love this. Will go and read Rose’s story….

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