From the September issue of Poetry Magazine:

Dressing Down, 1962
“Shalom,” called the pink-shirted man in the Oceanic
Terminal of Heathrow, and I snapped,
“I do not want to talk to you.” Manic

with fear, I extended one pointy-tipped shoe, tapped
the message home. My cases bulged with the wrong
clothes, every outfit trimmed with clipped

English, fit for telephone jobs on Long
Island. Rwanda, Algeria, and me
declaring every kind of independence.

My skirt and I were green, not the pretty
pistachio that Jacqueline Kennedy wore,
but the color copper develops in the sea,

cold and unfortunate, the green of storms
that have never squalled before. My hat,
gloves, and I were pale, not plush like the warm

blonde women settling in their seats
and bubbling dipthongs to their husbands;
not even poignant, like the champagne satin

that Marilyn Monroe was buried in.
Just neutral, stale as a biscuit, off
as an old cup of milk. I was stubborn,

I would do what I said and leave
England. I would ride that El Al jet, mystery
novel in hand and never grieve.

Johnny Carson, The Jetsons, and me.
A new wardrobe in cartoon hues. Meanwhile,
my row-mate slipped off her court shoes, free

toes wiggling in hose. “We all went to Israel,
almost all of us on the flight, and are returning
to South Carolina,” she explained in a drawl

that frightened me more that the turbofan
wailing beneath us. In her sundress, her stomach
looked soft. Ungirdled? Does everyone chat with a twang,

even the Jews? I do not want to talk,
but here I am, midair. “Coffee,” I replied
to the hostess, slowly. I will never wear slacks,

but I can unfasten each word, open it wide.

There are aspects of this poem that I enjoy, but it feels a little padded to me. Lot of telling going on here (“I snapped”, “manic with fear”), the sort of things that would be dreadful if appearing in a novel.  The mention of “telephone jobs” pull in an entirely different direction. The little joke about Rwanda and Algeria diminishes the tone of disconnection. The misspelling of “diphthongs” is [sic], I don’t know if that’s suppose to mean anything. The eighth stanza is unnecessary in terms of information (“I will leave England”) and too explanatory (“and never grieve”). The cartoon reference again causes tonal violence (particularly matched with genocide connotation above). The final three stanza suffer from biography.

I think some cuts would make this quite a striking poem. Perhaps this can be done without losing any of the strengths of the poem. Here’s my shot at a recut:

“Shalom,” called the pink-shirted man in
the Heathrow Terminal. My cases bulged with the wrong
clothes, declaring every kind of independence.

My skirt and I were green, not the pretty
pistachio that Jacqueline Kennedy wore,
but the color copper develops in the sea,

cold and unfortunate, the green of storms
that have never squalled before. My hat,
gloves, and I were pale, not plush like the warm

blonde women settling in their seats
and bubbling diphthongs to their husbands;
not even poignant, like the champagne satin

that Marilyn Monroe was buried in.
Just neutral, stale as a biscuit, off
as an old cup of milk. I do not want to talk,

but here I am, midair. “Coffee,” I replied
to the hostess, slowly. I will never wear slacks,
but I can unfasten each word, open it wide.

Much more terse. The first stanza draws out the tension much better by ignoring the peace offered by the unnamed man. Dropping some of the narrative and focusing in on the wardrobe keeps out the distracting elements.

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