Read Psyche in a Dress Online

Authors: Francesca Lia Block

Psyche in a Dress

Francesca Lia Block
Psyche in a Dress

For Joanna

am not a goddess

I am my father’s


My father had me mutilated twice

He had my mother and sisters murdered more than once

but he has never killed me off

sometimes I think he only gave me life

so I could be his muse, his actress


They say he does things with me

to work through issues he had with my mother

I look just like her in the early films but

now she is gone


In the first film I had to take off my top

I stood there, shivering

with my hands covering my breasts

as the cameras were rolling

A million caterpillars crawled over my bones

and my stomach was filled with the wings of dying moths

But I knew what I had to do


I am an actress

I am my father’s

I do my job


It was easier after that

I got used to all the crew watching

My father watching

People said that I was odd-looking

not the typical face you see

but my father tells me I am perfect, just what he wants

My father says

“These actors, they try to do too much

You know how to just be

Don’t try to do anything else

You are an actress

My princess”


I live with my father

in a dirty-white mansion

made of the bones and teeth of actors

It has been the scene of many atrocities

in my father’s films

There are crumbling columns in front

and a dining room we never use

with a giant chandelier from which

one of my father’s characters hung herself

There is a huge tiled pool

surrounded by crumbling, headless, limbless statues

ficus trees entwined with morning glories

beds of calla lilies

and oleander bushes

I can see the pool from my window


my father rarely fills it with water

It was used for a drowning in another film

I have a large room

with a large bed draped in diaphanous fabrics

I have my own bathroom with a sunken tub and a view

through glass walls

of my private, somewhat overgrown rose garden

peeling white iron chairs and mossy fountains

I have a walk-in closet of my mother’s designer clothes

In one interview I read

my mother said that she sold her soul for that wardrobe

A black satin-trimmed smoking jacket and trousers

a white satin-trimmed smoking jacket and matching satin

skirt, a golden pleated chiffon Grecian gown, a golden

sweater covered with gemstones, a white silk wrap

dress covered with giant red peonies, a pink suit with a

short jacket and skirt, shift dresses in white, black, red

sapphire, emerald and tangerine silk or satin, some

with large bows in back, piles of cashmere sweaters in

lipstick colors, some with silk flowers from obis

appliquéd on them, and many, many shoes


When my mother left us, she took only a black suit

a pair of jeans, a red silk blouse

her jewels and five pairs of the shoes

Sometimes I lie awake at night

wondering how she chose them

I knew which ones they were

because I knew her wardrobe better than she did:

black leather riding boots

black lizard pumps

strappy golden sandals

ruby red flats

emerald green satin dancing shoes with ankle straps

I was so jealous of those shoes

Sometimes I put on one of the dresses

light candles

and dance with my mother’s shadow

Most of the time, at night, I use only candles in my room

waiting for her to come back

Even a wraith is better than nothing

even a silhouette on the wall


My father’s new girlfriend, Aphrodite

wanted to be the star of his film

and he wouldn’t replace me

Once I heard him saying to her, “She’s seventeen!

She’s seventeen!

What do you expect?”

Enraging her even more

They screamed at each other all night

Until the chandelier shattered

And a thousand swallows flew through the open window

whirring their wings

In the morning she was gone

but she was not finished


One night I was lying in my bed

wearing an antique cotton nightgown

white as a bride

My father was out drinking with his producer

It was completely dark

Not even the candles were lit

I could have been abandoned

on a mountaintop—

the wind in my chest

was that cold

That was when you came

Through the open window

with the night-blooming jasmine

that grows up the old stone garden wall

You knelt beside my bed and put your head near mine

You whispered, “I just want to lie beside you tonight

I won’t hurt you”


I was afraid at first

Lay very still, waiting for pain

It felt like a scene from one of my father’s movies

The killer with the beautiful voice

For a moment I wondered

if my father had staged the whole thing

If he had a camera somewhere?

I wouldn’t put it past him

You only talked to me

You said, “Tell me”

You asked, “Do you think Love and Soul are the same?

If not, how does the Soul earn Love?

How does Love find his Soul?

Can one exist without the other?

If Love and the Soul had a child

what would her name be?”


“Tell me your name,” I said

“You already know

If you are Soul

I am the other one”


I heard the sea in your voice—

sheer waves breaking on pale powdered sand

I heard the glossy rustlings of the cypress and olive trees—

the footsteps of maenads and panpipes playing

echoing caves in the mountains—

cloven hooves striking the rock

At their approach birds took flight into the white skies

After a long time I fell asleep


In the morning you were gone


But you came

again and again

I asked to see you but you said

that was the one rule

I couldn’t put on

the light

Even so, I asked you to lie beside me

After a while I reached out

and held your hand

“I’m so crazy,” I said

“What’s wrong with me?

You come through my window at night

I haven’t seen your face

And I want you”


Even in darkness

your lips taste of sunshine

They leave a slight stinging spray on my lips

Your skin melts over me

I feel you enter like a shaft of light

My bones dissolve around you

We become liquid, eternal

I am released

from my mortality


You wiped my body with a cool towel

I told you what my father shot today

You said, “If you were my daughter

I would just sit you in front of a camera

and let it watch your face for hours, every expression”

“He cut off my mother’s head,” I said

“He made it keep talking

She had to have a mask made of her face

plaster and bandages

She is claustrophobic

and she said she almost died

breathing through those little straws”

You held me in your arms

and pressed your lips against my hair

After a long time you whispered

“The wild girls cut off Orpheus’s head

He shouldn’t have looked behind him

His music could have brought

Eurydice back from the dead”


“But he didn’t hear her footsteps,” I said


“You can’t doubt your gifts”


“Maybe he didn’t doubt himself

Maybe he doubted her, his love for her”


You were quiet, thinking


“My father doesn’t doubt,” I said


“What about you?”

I shook my head

Doubt tastes like sand in the mouth


“Philomela was raped

and her tongue cut out so she wouldn’t tell

She turned into a nightingale and sang

her story”


You told me all the myths, one after the other

night after night

my beautiful, brutal bedtime tales

As you spoke I closed my eyes and saw them come to life

the miniature figures acting out their parts

When we fell asleep

my dreams were more vivid than they had ever been

As if I were watching your dreams in my head—


The man who got to be a flower with a hundred petals

admiring himself in a pool forever

while the girl who loved him was only a voice

unable even to choose her words

The girl who crashed through the earth

in a chariot drawn by black steeds

punished for just one red pomegranate seed

unable to choose where she lived

a queen

only in darkness

a princess, her mother’s daughter


in the light


Love’s mother, the jealous one

who sent his beloved on a quest

carrying her heart in her hands

like a broken urn

Love the shining god with wings

Love the monster


“I love you,” I said

“Please let me

see you”

And you said, “You can’t doubt so much, Psyche”

But my half sisters were wearing black dresses

and big sunglasses

Their skin was tan

They came to visit me

I heard their heels click wickedly on the marble floor

“Tell us about this lover of yours”

“There isn’t anybody”

“Bullshit,” my oldest sister said

“Your skin never looked so good”

They wouldn’t stop asking


“I’ve never seen him,” I told them finally


They were appalled

“He only comes at night”

“You’ve never seen his face?”


He smells like night-blooming flowers

Crushed, juicy petals on the pillows

His voice is full of ocean

Humming like the surf

He kneels before me like I am his goddess

He is a god


They laughed at me

Then their faces turned


“You must make him show himself,” they said

“He may be a monster”


Why did I listen to them?

They have long white-blonde hair

large breasts

and brown skin

like their mother

I have my mother’s black hair, blue eyes and pale skin

full features and large hands like my father

My breasts are small with large aureoles

my legs long and too thin

I know there is something odd

in the way my knees touch and my neck strains

I am not sure why you chose me

Maybe you are a monster?


One night you came to me

I hid in the shadows and waited

I saw a dark figure go to the bed

feel around for the shape of my body

Your movements became more agitated

when you did not find me

You called my name

lay down on the sheets and searched for my scent

moved restlessly for a while like a baby or an animal

and then became

very still

I crept over to you and lit the candle I held

It was a tall taper that smelled of melting honey

In its light my lover was revealed


Is beauty monstrous?

If so, then my sisters were right

His beauty was so sharp it could have cut

out my heart

He lay naked, sleeping on my bed

How could it be?

Why had he chosen me?

I wanted to run and hide from him


As I stood, amazed, a drop of wax from the candle fell

and touched his bare shoulder

He cried out and leapt up

His face filled with pain


“I told you not to look at me,” he said

“My mother was right”


No girl wants to hear those words


He was so bright, a conflagration

And I

I had seen too much

I had seen the god

I was not

a goddess

I dropped to my knees and covered my eyes

“Don’t come back here,” I said


“Why do you doubt so much, Psyche?”


He reached to touch my shoulder but I pulled away

And then he was gone


My room has never been so empty

There is only one monster


She is ready to do anything to be forgiven

She has been mutilated

(On film, but still)

Her mother has been murdered more than once

Now the monster’s mother is just gone

What more must monster girl do to find the god again?

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