Tuesday, August 06, 2013

TUESDAY POEM | The Dress by Martha Morseth

                                        THE DRESS

                                        You hear the door slam
                                        her car grumble away
                                        know she’ll be gone long enough
                                        to search through the shelves
                                        the box should still be there
                                        she’d never throw it away.

                                        Each year she holds the dress against her body
                                        asks, ‘Wasn’t I beautiful?’
                                        You and Isobel will say, ‘You still are, Mum,’
                                        as you watch her place her hope back in the cupboard.

                                        When you were younger
                                        Isobel was the princess-bride because she’s older
                                        you, a lady in waiting wrapped in a paisley shawl.

                                        You put your school papers aside
                                        listen for sounds of the car
                                        footsteps on the porch
                                        the house cathedral still
                                        Isobel at school
                                        on your desk the Lady of Shalott essay lies finished.

                                        You open the cupboard door as though
                                        an ancient squeak would matter
                                        place the box on your bed
                                        take off your sweater
                                        your jeans
                                        hold the brocade and pearls to your chest
                                        slide the weight over your head
                                        entwine desiccated white roses through your hair
                                        stand in front of the mirror
                                        know you are that lady
                                        seeing shadows of the world.

                                        You place the box back deep on its shelf
                                        as careful as those other times
                                        read your essay again, know it’s good
                                        hear your mother screech open the door
                                        call to you
                                        ‘Jonah, I’m home.’

                                        Martha Morseth

A few words on The Dress from Martha: "Because inspiration comes hard these days, a friend occasionally sends me a word to ignite the muse. When she suggested 'dress', I thought first of types---romantic black, religious grey, etc---and ended up remembering my old wedding dress my daughters and their friends used for play. The material was a light-weight cream brocade which led me to imagine a richer and heavier fabric of pearls and lace of earlier times that characters like the Lady of Shalott may have worn. The rest, the setting and drama, developed from that image."

Martha has a way of approaching serious, uncomfortable subjects from a wholly original vantage point, combining clarity and insight with acerbic humour and compassion. She can be sharp-tongued without showing the faintest hint of malice or unkindness.   

Born in the United States, Martha immigrated to Dunedin in 1972. She taught high school English until 1999. Her poems and stories have been published in literary and popular magazines and anthologies.  Her first collection of poems, Staying Inside the Lines, was released in 2002. Together with four other poets - Kay Mackenzie-CookeJenny PowellSue Wootton and moi - Martha founded the Dunedin open mic series, Upfront, spotlighting women poets. Pearson has published three of her books for teenagers, two of which are short story collections - Yeah! and EDGE/a cut of unreal; and a book of one-act plays - Let’s Hear it for the Winner! Three of her one-act plays were produced for Otago University’s 2003 Gay Pride week, and a full-length play, The Trials and Tribulations of Emily, based on New Zealand’s first woman doctor, was produced in 2007. Two of her stories have been on Radio New Zealand. She has had poems published in anthologies, literary and popular journals including The Listener, Landfall, Sport, Takahe, JAAM, Poetry New Zealand, and in on-line journals as well as in her collection, Staying Inside the Lines (Inkweed 2002).

Trevor Reeves wrote of Martha's first collection Staying Inside the Lines --- "Martha is at her best when juxtaposing things with one another; events, tastes, activities, smells - a potpourri of words and images that are refreshing and delightful, yet bristling with the occasional menace. . . "

A selection of her poems and images can be found at http://www.otago.ac.nz/deepsouth/2007/index.html (University of Otago, Deep South literary journal) and additional biographical information can be found in the Writers Profiles of the NZ Society of Authors pages - www.authors.org.nz.  

(Thank you for The Dress, Martha.)

This week's editor on the Tuesday Poem hub is Renee Liang
whose rich commentary accompanies the poem Where


  1. Well, this is quite marvelous!

  2. came your way by way of T. A wonderful poem and I appreciate your commentary. I don't know this poet's work, but will investigate her now. Thanks for the links. I love reading poetry that is new to me - and this work really is imaginative. It immediately make me remember trying on my mother's white gossamer white peignoir when I was 10 years old. I thought it quite naughty at the time, but thinking back on it, it was very demur.

  3. p.s. http://my86400sec.blogspot.com