In the Red Dress I Wear to Your Funeral is a poem written by Erin Belieu which appears in her latest book Black Box. The textiles based machine embroidery was created by Alison Little as a response to the poem. Erin has kindly given her permission to use the poem as the subject matter for the artwork and for the poem to be reproduced for this article.
In the Red Dress I Wear to Your Funeral
I root through your remains,
looking for the black box. Nothing left
but glossy chunks, a pimp’s platinum
tooth clanking inside the urn. I play you
over and over, my beloved conspiracy,
my personal Zapruder film—look,
here’s us rounding the corner, here’s me
waving at the crowd. God, you were lovely
in your seersucker suit. And weren’t we happy
then, before the cross-fire triangulation?
Answer me, dead man.
Wait. Here comes the best part,
where my head snaps back and you crawl
blood-addled and ferocious
from the moving vehicle….
I am undead and sulfurous. I stink like a tornado.
I lift my scarlet tail above your grave
and let the idiot villagers take me
one by one by one by one….
Your widowed Messalina, my soprano
cracks the glasses on the buffet at the after party.
I know you can hear me.
Is my hair not coiffed like the monster’s bride,
lightning bolts screeching at my temples?
What electrified me
but your good doctor’s hand alone?
I’m a borscht-belt comedienne
working the audience from behind
I shimmy onstage between Pam
And Her Magic Organ and
the gigantic poodle act.
Your coffin is a tough room.
Mourners talk through my set,
down schmutz-colored highballs, wait
for the fan dancer to pluck
her scuzzy feathers. But you
the livestock, didn’t you?
I say how many of you folks are in
The microphone sweats
like your cock did in my hands.
I help the Jews drape the mirrors. I peel the foil from
the Protestant’s bleak casseroles. The Catholics and Agnostics
huddle in the parking lot, smoking a memorial bowl.
My dear, even the worst despot in his leopard skin fez
will tell you: the truth doesn’t win, but it makes an appearance,
though it’s a foreign cavalry famous for bad timing and
half-assed horsemanship. History will barely remember that you
were yellow and a cheat, a pixilated bi-valve who consumed
as randomly as the thunderheads pass, and yet, how strange,
how many of us loved you well. So tenderly, I’ll return
what you gave me—a bleached handkerchief, a Swiss army knife
bristling with pointless blades. Tenderly, I return everything,
leaving my best evidence in your bloodless lap
I go to our Chinese take away,
where the placemats say I’m a snake
and you were my favorite pig, though
astrologically you were a wasting
disease and I’m the scales of justice.
Get down on your knees
and cross yourself all you want:
all systems are closed systems, dead man.
I keep my saltshaker holstered in my garter belt,
ready to spill.
I recite the fairy tale
in which only I can save you: it’s our story,
so there’s a swamp instead of a forest,
and no trail but a river agog with water moccasins
winding through the cypress knees.
Your faithful Gerta, true sister
in my red pinafore,
I’ve tracked you doggedly for miles,
appearing at the critical moment,
when you take the Turkish Delight into your mouth.
I’ve arrived just in time!
It’s impossible to miss me, eager as a stain
behind the Swamp Queen’s white shoulder,
your tattered avenger, your loyal roach, who’s wanted only
you in every suppurating hut, who’s belly-crawled
through the shit-filled bogs to find you,
to whom you gave your vow, my will undone, family
asunder, my home disappeared by the charm of
your girlish tears…
and that’s it. Nothing comes next.
That’s the moment you decide, dead man.
You look into my face and gulp her
candy down. You shoot it like a bad oyster.
how I tell it, this world ends when
I was never your Intended,
never meant to be the official widow
like that plain, chinless girl I refused to recognize
But the plain ones are patient, aren’t they?
I’ll admit, she’s earned her orchestra seats
at this burial the old-fashioned way.
She’s up front, next to your mama,
that Chanel commando baked medium-well
in her spray-on tan. A rare example
of the real Southern lady, how many nights
did it cost her, patrolling
the family compound for Jezebels like me?
Your women, dead man. From here
they look like two snap peas squatting
in the same pod.
And they did their job, didn’t they?
They made it easy for you?
But later, once the ladies go,
I’ll climb down to you again.
I’ll come to you in that dirty box
where we’ve already slept for years,
keeping our silent house
under their avalanche of flowers.
EYE AM THE PROMISED VISITATION
PRIESTESS OF BLACK POPLARS
MY TREES R HUNG W/ BRAZEN BELLS
EYE HAVE AUGURED THE PREGNANT SOW’S INTESTINES
RORSCHACHED THE PICKLED WORM
GLUED TO THE BOTTOM OF YR SHOT GLASS
EYE BRING U NEWS OF THE UNIVERSE
AND THE NEWS AINT GOOD DEAD MAN
THE ZOMBIE COCKTAIL HOUR OF THE YEARS TO CUM
A PURGATORY UNBENDING AS
IN THE T-LEAVES EYE SPY YR OUTLINE
YR CORPSE SNORING IN A VINE-
REBEL DRAG MOUNTS THE WALLS LIKE A CONFEDERATE
HARD ROCK CAFÉ O! THE BLURRED DAYZ
COLLAPSING INTO DINNERS WHILE THE MAID BURNS
THE FAMILY BISCUITS & YR WOMAN BEATS
THE GRAVY STIFF U ARE LOST
GANYMEDE GONE THAT BOY
WHO POURED HIMSELF WHOLE INTO THE SIBYL’S
LOVING CUP NOW EYE CUM
TO BURY U
4 EYE AM
THE GHOST OF X-MAS PAST AND YR FUTURE
BEGINS NOW DEAD MAN
I do not desist in my delusion do not permit the victor’s history
will not admit your fake religion what jams your fingers
in the dry vagina of tin idylls will not will not go quietly
your evil goody who cries me in the marketplace who knocks
my ear to the pillory with false instruments my crimes never
crimes for firstly I be the pretty pony of all plague slant-gashed
a coil beneath my scum of loveliness No! I was I always am
your yellow roses in a beer bottle your weakness and reward
one organ conjoined in the blue tipi of floating whistles
doubled thunder coming in my wicked mouth to eat you and your
grandma too Name her! Name her who bites you harder little girl!
Will not say for seconds I am filth dirty as the damaged apple I bore
not yours never yours that unspeakable sunshine Turn your head!
Turn your head and I’ll kindly cut it off Yes Yes the best reason I am
left only the mother of a great sun you would go blind and blinder to look
upon its number and for finally I am not of your being being Queen
of the flat kingdoms what crop your emptiness I do not admit these nor
I lied nor I betrayed nor I am starving for you nor can you make me
never Will I disappear
I peel myself
and wherever these rubied
feathers drop, a poppy unfurls
in the graveyard, each head plush
as a stitched lip.
it gets me high, how thin I am, my
love, the substance uncontrolled.
But this molting becomes me,
your naturally-occurring razor,
your baby I.V. Now I am fashioned
the gun so truly fired
I blast like a magic cap through
my own skin. So go on,
throw the bones
to your hairy pack and let them gnaw.
I’m done with the meat. Soon, I’ll be
demolished. I’ll step away free.