Monday, October 25, 2010

“A Dress of Fire” by Dahlia Ravikovitch

I had decided that I wasn't going to post any more poetry from my classes, but I thought this one was particularly interesting. The poem mentions the Greek tragedy Medea, but the overall point is that Medea was a witch who ended sending the woman her lover, Jason, left her for a poisoned dress and a crown that burnt the flesh from her bones. The whole story is interesting, but this is really all you need for this particular poem (though that is a horrible summation of the play).

A DRESS OF FIRE by Dahlia Ravikovitch

You know, she said, they made you
a dress of fire.
Remember how Jason's wife burned in her dress?
It was Medea, she said, Medea did that to her.
You've got to be careful, she said,
they made you a dress glowing like an ember,
burning like coals.

Are you going to wear it, she said, don't wear it.
It's not the wind whistling, it's the poison
oozing.
You're not even a princess, what could you do to Medea?
Can't you tell one sound from another, she said,
it's not the wind whistling.

Remember, I told her, that time when I was six?
They shampooed my hair and I rushed out into the street.
That shampooing
trailed its scent after me like a cloud.
Then I got sick from the wind and the rain.
I didn't yet know how to read Greek tragedies,
but the scent of the perfume spread
and I was very sick.
Now I can see it was an unnatural perfume.

What will become of you, she said,
they made you a burning dress.
They made me a burning dress, I said. I know.
So why are you just standing around, she said,
you've got to be careful.
You know what a burning dress is, don't you?

I know, I said, but not about
being careful.
One whiff of that perfume and I'm all confused.
I said to her, No one has to agree with me,
I don't trust Greek tragedies.

But the dress, she said, the dress is on fire.
What are you saying, I shouted,
what are you saying?
I'm not wearing a dress at all,
what's burning is me.
This poem mixes the tragedy of Medea with Ravikovitch's own life (apparently she had exposed nerves and was sickened by perfume as a child), but it also makes the reader think of betrayal. Our teacher asked us to think of the burning dress as the expectations we put on women to be certain ways and I thought it was interesting.

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