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Dress Made of Mice

When I first met you, I wore a dress made of mice—fell asleep
upon the ground  and a thousand, more, crept toward me through the grass.

They laced their tails and fastened pink claws across my skin, an instant
stitching as I rose up. I wore a dress made of mice, one last sigh and then

their breathing gone, they left only their skin which fell now lighter
than a breeze against my thighs. How had I become

so naked? And lost my human clothes? And when had the snake come in?
Silent, stone-eyed, it never blinked in our new light, looked the same

from every side, which was not like us. We changed with every sigh,
the same as the grass we slept upon. Beneath the bodies of mice, at first

we saw no other bodies. When we stood up, we turned the color of the sky.
The dress of mice hung empty with its thousand skins fluttering ghost-grey

then white when each cloud passed, two thousand raindrop ears, four thousand
tassel paws—and then the dress became the grey-green bark of trees

shiny beads of possibility, the paws of some pink blossoming.
We were very hard to find. When you reached out to touch me, you felt me

barely there. There is no harm in love, we said lying in each other’s arms—
There is no harm in love. There is no harm, we said.



Seventeen years later, summer drowns again in the voices of insects.

Come back from the dead and write one more thing.

A red fox lying dead at the side of the road.

Come back in a dress made of living things.

Three pupa caught in a colander, finches fluttering from rain gutters.

Come back wearing all the words you once told me, your hands fluttering through grass.

A fire ant followed me onto the plane after you left. When they pulled up the sidewalk in front of my house, they found a colony of rats.

Come back and I’ll lay down quietly inside of your cloud. Which is my crinoline of want. Which is the sash your arms once made of me.

For many months, I went to the lake and saw the white egret.

Come back and open your neckline.

The sky is sewn by pairs of wings. But what kind of stitch is a swarm?

Come back and unravel your wrist, which is the edge of a pond where an old mill stands still.

Even the band playing all day in the park cannot extinguish this buzz-saw of longing. Someone left a giant fluorescent light on humming in the entire sky.

What will I see when I can finally look inside you?

I have looked for you everywhere but found only the cicada’s empty flight jacket fashioned like a brooch to the trunk of every tree.


A Skeleton Made of Flowers
—for Sangchen Tsomo

A petal that lasts a day is the only real petal. Everything else: unspeakable. Like the moon lingering, a defenestrated dress, a lawn covered in sparkling auto-glass. But what’s most beautiful never lasts. Like this man carrying an armful of poppies. Or crabs wandering somewhere at night. Always a war ending. A lake melting sideways. Or a girl in a flaming window. Every day is not my private mattress. I think of a bed made entirely of petals. Then I think of my skeleton.

You are the flower’s eye. The little dog barks. I think we are alone now, hiking somewhere. Some say we exist, that we are here. As if I drop a key on the floor, then suddenly remember the smell of pant-legs, a long peppered beard. As if I remember paper wasp nests. Or that behind the wooden door sits a child with cheeks like apples. I think we are alone now in our feathers and seeds and little dogs. Tell me the truth, please. That nothing is incomplete. Even this celibate weather.

I cannot follow the petal’s instruction as it falls. And I don’t know the place where you go—the place you come back from when you return. I live inside the sound of canyons when you sleep. My lungs are just a memory of thunderstorms. Reach inside and pilfer my pearl button spine. You are not a wax figure of a petal, you are the real petal, however brief. Sometimes at night I turn into animals. Falling through sleep. I am not yet a petal like you.

Who watches the petal as it falls? Who is there? I walk down to the boardwalk and see nothing but your face inside these leaves. Somewhere canyon falls asleep for one-hundred years. Then the rock turns into powder, mud, the liquid inside of trees. There is no such thing as history, you say. No such thing as time. Someone has made a doll out of horsehair, someone has chained a dog to a bed, someone has lifted an armful of petals and run, scattering them all over the yard.

I sit like a skeleton made of flowers. What is it like to have no eyes? Somewhere, I hear, there are canyons and animals. How can I walk with all this honey inside my head? What if—only sitting in the occasional falling of petals? What if—only unmoving, impossible joy? Then there could be no nostalgia. Sometimes weather moving, but never the sky. People go and come back, but there’s only you existing outside myself. Only you inside, existing simultaneously. And the wonder that you might teach me. And the wonder that you might stay. Wherever you walk, flowers appear.  


Sarah Messer has received fellowships and grants from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the NEA, and the Mellon Foundation. In 2008-2009 she was a fellow in poetry at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Bunting) at Harvard. She is the author of a hybrid history/memoir, Red House (Viking), and a poetry book, Bandit Letters (New Issues). Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and Ploughshares, among others. She teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and runs One Pause Poetry, a reading series in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  See www.onepausepoetry.org.