Tonight’s entry begins in the small closet in the upstairs hall. There, a bag of shameful confirmation is knotted evidence of a ritual I’ve practiced since my teens. It’s difficult to discuss without the risk of sounding horribly shallow, it might be only a poet who would recognize the significance of the ceremony involved in selecting an annual summer wrapper. This ritualized spring rebirth of the self is made by way of spandex, nude lining, underwire, a few pieces of hardware.
Usually it’s one suit a year, on an indecisive year, maybe two. Always a careful combination of separates crafted into one complete experience. Fold over boy short bottom snug on the hips and a twist front scoop bikini top calls I’m ready for the waves, ride me. The low rider bikini bottom with a swing top tankini suggests golden toes this summer. Glamour ruched bottom and with string bikini top together say I’m open to starting that new manuscript and stopping the nonsense with the panties. The combining is as critical as the pairing of two shoes. Who would step out of the house in a mismatched pair of Dana Buchman flats? Coordinate a Courrèges mini with a 49ers jersey? It’s unrepentant.
The next consideration is a careful selection of color – chosen, I imagine, as a parent might choose their child’s name. One year a tonal “Slate”, suggests sophistication; I am above the garish clatter of the beach. The next, an “English Rose” portends a straw bag bearing a mid-century Romance novel, a hank of bread, slices of cucumber, then “Brackish Swale”,” Yearling Gold”, and last year’s miserable “Pale Milk”. I thought men would find me lap-able, woman: creamy. It was a sheer disaster. Color is the first definition of the season.
Although each winter it seems like the days will never get warmer or longer, they do and the JCrew swim catalogue always arrives with its pages stiff as crocus stems. This year, Easter evening was lingering and warm and hovered on the edge of daylight for a long time. Smoke from the neighbor’s lamb cookout came through the screen; people laughed on a lawn far down the busy street. I lounged on the sofa, the catalogue splayed on my lap. It was time to commit to the seasonal suit. I drew myself as a circle on the edge of catalogue’s slick page. From my circular self I drew radial arms: a wind-swept explorer who vacationed in cotton at the Ocean, a black sheep, tipsy daughter/sister combo at the family reunion, a bronzed sizzle-girl dripping in champagne and oil, in love with my skin, half-drunk with sun, a dull guest lecturer at the obscure Polish undergraduate writing program, fighting freckles and essays.
I longed to touch upon the body’s assets, as well. It had been a good year in the gym. Could I brave a two-piece? Was I a two-piece woman? One had to consider age. I drew another line to the circle, connecting me to my age. When I was done, in addition to the miffed muff of the model sporting a modal one piece, the page was surrounded by hundreds of words modifying myself. To be completely honest, this bathing suit might never even touch water but it was fingering my Volkswagen, my good sheets, my Italian sandals, my hungry belly and two oeuvres breasts that the suit’s soft shell cups would carry, the Mead notebooks I write in, the thick wood cutting board over the sink in the kitchen, the sink itself (aproned, enamel, slippery), my tangerine leather appointment book, my brother the lawyer, my first published poem.
So many notions. Were there this many last year? Would I add even more next year? Approaching it as a poet, it seemed like I might be better served by a suit that was sold in pieces of pieces; a top that was tendered by cup, strap, and stitch – not just top alone. It is an intimate encounter, this bathing suit shopping. It expresses ideas that I have about myself. It’s how I’ve always done it, though; be it a pound of strawberries, a bathing suit, red wine. With this narrative version of myself in mind I draw these items into my life. No detail, seam, nuance of color or fragrance is left unnoticed. The same is true in my writing. I wouldn’t overlook a comma.
My hall closet will always harbor these suits. I delight in piecing meaning out of things, tasks, so mundane or created that others shrivel. For those differently abled folks, finding a swimsuit is no harder than slogging to the store, grabbing a blue one in their size and heading home satisfied. But I fall for the small elements; straps, darts, drape, fabric. This poet was born for separates. Let all the others buy off the rack.
Originally posted May 17, 2011