Karen Rigby

Portrait with Arsenic Dress

Lace dye with copper arsenite
for a jewel green shade. Scheele’s Green
the rage in 19th century rooms
so killing beauty’s a thing,
until it’s not, gone
the way of flammable
crinolines or ballerinas
in diaphonous skirts
circling too near to the gas lights.

Before anyone believes the factory girl deaths
an arsenic dress is pre-technicolor glory.
Who can fault the Victorians?
Like you’ve never shed

a dangerous thing. I don’t mean
the black skirt tight
as a gun moll’s
or nippled silk,
but the draped arm

of a man. When I think of Pittsburgh—
brick ramblers backing onto
cobbled avenues—
starless, antiseptic sky.
Leaves the color of iodine.

Under a poison green skirt
there’s no pavilion. No mannequin legs.
Just flesh shielded by slips—
and, so, miraculous—
not killed by the metalloid dress.

Karen Rigby is the author of Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press). Her poems have been published in Grain, Bennington Review, Australian Book Review, and other journals. She lives in Arizona. www.karenrigby.com