THE PAINTED DRESS

I. 1986

After careful cutting, it's not easy
to join each jewel-hued piece
of velvet Richard brushed in strokes
like the feathers that showered the foyer

when his bird called Baby Jesus flew
into the ceiling fan. Blue and green,
those fronds floated to the floor.
Although I know the steps, the streaks

of gold and green and fuchsia block
my needle's passage through his canvas.
Holding my breath, I squint and push
each stitch into the painted fabric.

His AIDS-weak hands could not fasten
the buttons I cover in taffeta,
the same that wraps the neckline piping
which recalls hospital tubes.

Before my work is finished, Richard
leaves. I grieve his death in silence,
fingers stitching. But when at last
I dance alone in the dress we made
together, I praise his life and let him go.

II. 1991

A folded quilt rests on the ballroom floor.
I grasp one point and lift to open
the crease. With others I repeat
the gesture: we move in a unison ballet,

our stockinged feet stepping lightly
until the twelve-foot square blooms full.
One by one, the sections spread
their lives across the room, a gala sprawl,

and, wishful, I fancy my dress among them.
His name sparkles silver on the fuchsia
satin I bind our design to, stitching
the very skirt in one last dancing flare.

Like scattered confetti, cut buttons tack
the batting in, one dots his i,
and purple embroidery floss tells
the years Richard colored our lives.

In a Quaker quilt-square hall, we pledge
new panels. Reading the names, a voice
proudly calls out Richard: I hold
it high, my dress turned one piece
among many, then lay the tribute down.

(c)Margaret J. Tinsley