David Dodd Lee

The Red Dress

The air is a feint; we rise into it. It is everywhere you place
your mouth; the flower that loves its burst of blood is a triggered

   collapse, a
most sincere gesture: and we keep on breathing through round

forty-seven. Now it is August in Indiana, under still branches, as if I’d
come back around looking your posture over from a riding lawnmower.

   My windows-
on-water is itself like a jail cell, like a jerking off toward incentive

to abandon all responsibility for the gutter with other such “good
intentions.” Like the bullfrog, I balloon with bluster and concern. I

   do love
the way wild pears in the grass accumulate bruises, intestinal with yellow

jackets—epiphanies—fireflies gagging on the recent past. These ostensible
revolutions work best for planets, no wall of skin to impede what

   should certainly
be circuitous, this morning’s slashes shrouded with translucent flies. I

don’t think the muralist has a clue. Mild mannered are the loping deer the
hawk breathes into focus: I want to get so spiritual with you (wolf gotten into

   the barnyard)
then bring “real life” back into the fold, not gentrified into something

as banal as discomfiture, postmodern as echoes on a shit-smeared bridge.
Or are we just vestigial to biology, a hand picking up a paint brush, but no

   actual blood
glistening on the old brick wall, a gun fired in the tunnel of your open eyes…




(St. Joseph and Mississippi Rivers)

You might come to just after the birds register,
nine satellites circling the neighborhood, several vultures soaring the horizon of dusk
like abandoned boats in tidal light—glass-refracted—shipwrecked
by nightfall, fish cold as wintertime because of their division from air.
He thinks of water soaking up a riverbank, one arm parting the structure of summer,

and he means the structure of the way she smells, like sweet tree bark crushed in a hotel
bed while the wind searches the onion bags hanging off the irrigation sheds.
A toe on her left foot is adorned with a copper ring, a gesture toward closure,
an ache in the bend of the river, 93 degrees and no breeze, garlic
and humidity, lightning, then the faint whiff of exhaust from a carboned-up lawnmower.

Let us both be children again, he thinks, a thousand butterfly wings
drifting over just mown blades of grass while piles of leaves burn, a boy following
a deformed spine of smoke up through a circle of trees, like the way she gasps purple
as if she means the gentle inoculation of shoulder straps—weeds softly
scraping his ankles, mud caressing the curves of her insteps…

But they’re as old as each bucket of summer, middle-aughts, 2000-whatever, creeks colder
than earth, a root entering a bone buried in leaves (or surgery, tray table lined next to tray table),
like the efflorescence of words dissolving deep into the subconscious, a feeling
dispersed through the clockwork of body, the spiritual all mixed up with their digestive systems.
That’s why he stops using words sometimes, then hears something not quite his name (it’s

a close echo). He thinks he might drift under it, like someone injured toward ill-intent knows
the tip of the beyond dragging its name across his nipples and shoulder blades, cold willow leaves…
Sometimes she weeps in her black dress for no reason, thighs moving like bridges
disappearing into fog, the Mississippi River, early morning…One time she screamed them
The screen door’s storm window showed her smiling ten seconds after the car battery died,

the backseat with old letters to Occupant, mayflies drifting around after daybreak
like somebody playing a violin down near the beaver dam.  Now there are snakes dangling
in the apple orchards, the martyred eyes of a hand-me-down Christ setting to smolder in public,
the indentations where each has suffered under a hand,
a handful of nails on top of soft moss…Why must we insist, she thinks, because she can’t get to the

below his knee that grows red when it rains anymore either, and chafes when he counts backwards
   in Italian—
almost whispering—like laughter spilling from an empty house, or music that seems to come out of
nowhere; woodwinds through closed windows, the buzz of gold dragonflies. She climbs to her
place in the wide tulip poplar, he snaps off his miner’s light. July explodes with comet trails
and double breaks…If there aren’t stars falling all over the burning river this is the wrong ending.


David Dodd Lee is author of eight books of poems, including Animalities (Four Way Books, 2014) Downsides of Fish Culture (New Issues Press, 1997), Orphan, Indiana (Akron, 2010), The Nervous Filaments (Four Way Books, 2010), Abrupt Rural (New Issues, 2004) and Arrow Pointing North (Four Way, 2002). Additionally, a book of erasure poems, Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere, the Ashbery Erasure Poems (BlazeVox) appeared in 2010.  David is Editor-in- Chief of IUSB’s 42 Miles Press, and he teaches creative writing, visual art, and literature classes, as well as classes on publishing, at Indiana University South Bend, Indiana.