In 19th century Ireland, the differences in dress between the middle-class lady and the poor woman were dramatic.
—Delaney, Dress in Ireland
I can’t say why
only as I followed her through the market
I imagined myself as her, held
her wicker basket on the hook of my arm,
felt my buckled toes spread in her wide, flat brogues.
I could have sworn
my ribs fell to my feet for when I looked
I saw two large breasts unfettered—a life of their own.
I heard the broad vowels of her dialect in my mouth
as I held loins of meat to the light,
examining for freshness, bargaining for price.
I was almost fully formed, enjoying the warmth
of her petticoat spread on my thighs
when sensing me behind she turned,
something circumspect in her peasant face.
Pardon me Mam she said.
It was my own voice I heard then.
All at once I felt a tightness loop around my waist,
my skin drew back as I inhaled
each corseted breath slowly as I had for years.
Nothing left of my change or so I thought
the red of that petticoat
burnt in my dreams like a scar.