“Management Changes Rules about the Dress Code” by Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi


We are always stepping into the same river
expecting the water to feel nice. Management
decides what temperature to keep things.
Whether jeans will continue to be seductive
this season, whether kaftans will be banished
overnight. Management admits, the rules
can be confusing: Cover your breasts! Uncover
them! Jump into the fire! Desist! Management
is doing this to free us from oppression.
Elsewhere, management puts up signs in bars:
Bodycons and stilettos, welcome!

I like that long ago story of the exiled warriors
in the forest who make garlands of flowers
for one another. All that formidable male floral
talent. How one of the warriors is a monkey—
son of the sun, he of the beautiful neck. I can deal
with the passive aggressiveness of drawing
a circle of safety around a house and saying,
Feel free to cross over, but only for cute
animals! But to be swallowed by the earth
in a chastity test? I’d like that less.
What use is being pure if you’re dead?

Management can’t understand why
there’s such resistance to bring your dots
to the polka day, to pack away your hijab
day. They’ve sent in a parade to convince us.
Listen to the drums. It’s twirl your saffron
scarves day. The choreography’s a bit stilted
but they’ll soon deliver—rear lat spread, side chest,
bicep FLEX—like a tease of menacing strippers.
I can’t help thinking about those warrior brothers
in the forest. Tender men with bows and arrows.
What they’d make of this lone heroine—

daughter of community, deal of the day, raising
her fist in defiance. Are we really as far gone
as we think, or is the distance something
we imagine? Management needs new illusions
if we’re to keep faith in the narrowing rivers.
We’re no longer okay to be born in a box
and left in a field. Even the most docile of furrows
can develop a spleen. Management should know
there are vines in the forest that can strangle their hosts
with the tiniest bell-shaped flowers. That spring,
when it arrives, is bedecked with revolutions.

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2022


Tishani Doshi: “This week I read how Muslim Indian women in the state of Karnataka were being denied entry to college because they were wearing hijabs. How they were being instructed to follow the university ‘dress code’ which previously seemed to have had no problem with the hijab. And I watched in awe, the video of one brave woman who stood up to a mob of right-wing Hindu hecklers. Meanwhile, in Surrey, UK, an upscale restaurant put out a dress code for female customers to wear sexy heels and bodycon dresses. In the midst of all this, I happened to see a beautiful folio from the Ramayana from the 1700s of the warrior Lakshmana picking elephant flowers to make a garland for Sugriva and even though a fair bit of that epic is about paternalistic protecting and control, I thought how tender. How far.” (web)

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