SAY YES TO THE DRESS
a reality television show, viewed while flying across country
And in this episode, a woman of forty-five
whose face says This cake is stale,
whose face says Just tell me
how much it costs, whose face
if you knew how to feel
would make you ashamed not to over-tip your waitress—
this woman, hauling her two teenage daughters,
her mother, her sister, and an aunt, (all
brides have entourages, it’s some kind of law), announces
she wants to walk down the aisle in a ball gown:
she wants something poufy, like Cinderella.
Even though everyone is telling her
a middle-aged bride should wear a sheath,
something knife-like and discreet
and lethal; even though she and her fiancé were both recently laid off,
and she’s been living with this guy for fifteen years,
arguing about bills and laundry,
they have children together, they have a house
which they might lose and God knows
why they’re even getting married now, neither one
has health insurance, still.
It’s her One Big Day
and she’s determined to have it,
so dress after dress is trotted out,
tea-length confections of satin and tulle,
strapless numbers, ribboned and ruched,
and the words
shirred, and scalloped, and pin-tucked are used—
and found wanting.
The saleslady is practically drowning
in a magnificent tumble of glossy, rejected fabrics,
leaving the viewer to imagine the texture of this woman’s disappointments.
Her lower lip trembles,
she only has two thousand dollars to spend
(which in the parlance of this show, is peanuts),
still, a girl has a right, doesn’t she?
The flight attendant trundles by
offering peanuts and headphones, and I’m thinking
Say yes! Yes, yes, yes
to the sacred, dreaded threshold,
yes to being shredded like a negligee and scattered
like seed pearls—
and we’re a mile up in the sky where even in June
there’s a frieze of lace over the rough brown breasts of the Rockies.
The plane tilts and rights itself so quietly
we don’t even notice, dozing as we are,
in a hive of white noise,
suspended, blind, over the deserts and mountains
and fruited plains of our inheritance: Americans,
with not quite enough leg room
frowning or chuckling in front of our separate screens,
entitled to our dreams and dreaming them.
from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
[ download audio]
Alison Luterman: “On a cross-country airplane trip (Jet Blue) I lugged my usual complement of five serious books—no Kindle for me!—and then spent most of the flight staring dumbly at the little miniature television sets the airline thoughtfully provides each passenger. Since I don’t have TV at home, I am especially caught by reality shows, and since I had gotten (re)-married at age 50 the year before (wearing a vintage blush-colored tea-length dress) I was especially caught by Say Yes to the Dress.” ( website)