The Dressing

This reading was recorded by Alessandro Mistrorigo at Phonodia LAB in Venice, Italy, on the 18th of April, 2014.

Read by Rita Dove on 18 April 2014

The Dressing

Father's aside


Outside, I am not a man.
I am a thing
which in fine company
aroused awe:
that curious fusion of fear and longing
I have learned to make use of.

I am not a country
though I bear the marks
upon this countenance
of my own wretched, fragrant island
and the hopes of its enslavers
in my name: a rived crossed, a conquered view.

Still, I am not that sad city. I am more
than its vainglory and collective shame.

Here, on this Isle, I am
a continent, I am so large
they cannot grasp my meaning.
Contours loom, unmapped;
my lineaments refuse coherence.
I am the Dark Interior,
that Other, mysterious and lost;
Dread Destiny, riven with vine and tuber,
satiny prowler slithering up behind
his doomed and clueless prey.

Since in their eyes I have no culture,
I am free to borrow strange adornments:
the Ottoman Sultan's quilted turban,
a French phrase, Caesar's cape
flung hyperbolically across Africa's
gaily layered robes. In this way
I have made from their lust a business.

This is their system; they understand
the service I provide–no trifling pleasure.
And if to them I am no more
than a mere phantasm,
a swarthy figment of their guilt,
yet I came to these shores yoked
to my name: Bridgetower, a reach
and a stretch–and now
I would give up my small empire
to you, my son, but not ever
must you forget that you are, indeed,
a Prince–just not the pitiable one
the worship here, not just the one
they can see.

from Sonata Mulattica (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., © 2009 by Rita Dove). All rights reserved. Copying to other websites or any kind of reprint is a violation of international copyright laws and strictly forbidden.

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