Why My Daughter in a Maxi Dress Makes Me Think of Pablo Neruda’s Poetry

by Becky on May 9, 2012 · 1 comment

in Fashion

The famous Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California was never so colorfully adorned as on the afternoon my daughter, Tessa, wore her maxi dress—an acquisition from Anthropologie—for a photo shoot with her dad.

Maxi dress photo shoot under pierThat girl! That dress! That fabric! I think maybe my daughter has acquired my love for textile-inspired patterns. Also notice the hair, won’t you?—as long as the dress, just about! I realize I love that dress all the more for its having enrobed my daughter’s slender, five foot ten inch figure. 

Think about all the things to which we form attachments precisely because they were worn by/touched by/treasured by the people to whom we are likewise attached.  After my mother died of lung cancer, I kept the sweet, white cotton nightgown she always wore.  It became a soft vestige of the dear, beautiful, mortal person whose status in her own small circles was truly legendary.  Which brings to mind a passage from a surpassingly lovely Pablo Neruda poem entitled “Ode to things,” from the collection Odes to Common Things.  The maxi dress . . . the nightgown . . . bearing “the trace of someone’s fingers on their . . . surface.”   

I love
not because they are
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
this ocean is yours,
and mine:
these buttons
and wheels
and little
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms,
glasses, knives and
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
in the depths of forgetfulness.

—Pablo Neruda, 1904-1973

Maxi dress on rock mosiac

In the spirit of poetry and flowy dresses, you might enjoy the offerings—that is, the maxi dresses—at Dresses from Shabby Apple, whose stuff we adore. Great pieces, often vintage-inspired, and not too hard on the pocketbook either. We also love the amazing snapshots gathered from here, there, and everywhere on thesartorialist.com, in particular the one from yesterday—“On the Street . . . Paseo del Prado, Madrid.” Two things would be completely true if I were the owner of that pencil skirt: 1) I would die happy, and 2) I would have to fight my sixteen-year-old, Miss Pierside, the Maxi Princess, for the right to say it was mine.

A perfect addition to the discerning reader’s bookshelf is Odes to Common Things, in hardback, the poems selected and illustrated by Ferris Cook and translated by Ken Krabbenhoft. Published by Bulfinch, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, Neruda is the definitive poet of love. 

What do you treasure for its having been owned by that one individual you associate with it?  I love Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 for the afternoon my son and I spent studying it together.  I sat alongside him while he did a scansion (a close, textual analysis of sound and meaning).  He didn’t even need my help, really.  Some kids must be wired for Shakespeare!

Deb May 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Thanks, Eleven O-clock Mom, for reminding me of this beautiful Neruda poem and for the invitation to share my own experience with the power of things that bear the “trace of someone’s fingers” on their surface. Last June, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then I have gone through aggressive therapy: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. During chemotherapy, I just wanted to hibernate; I didn’t want to see anyone…. or be seen by anyone! Knowing that there was little she could do to help me physically but needing to do something, my mother started work on a “crazy” quilt. She painstakingly pieced together fabric she’d saved throughout my life: from dresses she’d made me as a child, old prom dresses, my bridesmaids’ dresses. On some squares she embroidered delicate trees and spiders’ webs; on others she sewed little buttons shaped like frogs or bees (because I’ve loved frogs–in the abstract–since childhood and my name is Hebrew for “the bee”). She even included a couple pink ribbon pins to mark my latest journey. She later told me that while I was being poked and prodded, infused and irradiated, she prayed and sewed. The quilt is, indeed, “crazy”–brightly colored, haphazard patterns, surprises around every corner–just like life. And when I look at it, I think of the wonderful, unpredictable complexity of life and of my mother’s loving, healing, talented fingers leaving their traces across its surface.

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