Dorothea Lasky: “Whatever you paid for that sweater, it was worth it”

Sometimes I have a very specific, weird experience, and am amazed to find that another poet has written about this exact thing. I had this feeling when I came across this poem from Dorothea Lasky’s book AWE on the Wave Books website. For me, it describes the exhilaration, terror, and shame of writing a novel about someone who lives a much wilder life than I do.

When I say that my inner self (or some previously-repressed aspect of it) is a man, and a rather oversexed and sarcastic man at that, what am I saying about the ways that being a woman limits my life? And are those limitations cultural or inherent? In this poem, the woman who is murdered is apparently also set free, “careening back there up into the stars”. Even more than the license to be a sexual adventurer, which I don’t especially want except in fantasy, the freedom from the pressure to be “good” and “nice” seems like a privilege associated with masculinity. At the same time, I am a woman, and I need to find some way to affirm that female energy, or I fall into another type of self-betrayal.

My protagonist is a fashion photographer, and so my book includes some exploration of artifice versus nature, and concealment versus intimacy. I think he’d appreciate the poem’s incongruous title, whose throwaway pop-culture lightness seems to be telling the narrator not to take her lyricism and high drama too seriously. The confession is disavowed even before it’s made.

Whatever you paid for that sweater, it was worth it

Be scared of yourself
The real self
Is very scary.
It is a man
But more importantly
The man is tall
And is everything in you that is an absolute
   reverse of all your actions
In you he will do things and in you no one
   will know the difference
Still the honey and the herb, the bright lights.

The piece of fiscal fish, the lemons,
The blank above with stars will praise you
But he, he puts his legs over frail women
And tries to get to the thing they won’t give up.
Just as true loneliness gets to the very real
   thing in you
Scary or not, is part man for all it is wanting
   and can’t get
To the place where it has married woman, it sits
In a sea of lemons, its tail dragged bloody across
   the floor.

Still, here I do not speak of mutilation.
The real self is not muddy, it is pure
Still here it is a thing of murder
The self comes off itself and murders the woman
   in its path
Her skirts effortlessly careening back there up
   into the stars.

Reprinted by permission of Wave Books. Visit Dorothea Lasky’s page on their website here, to read more poems and to order AWE and her new book Black Life.

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