KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Poem: 795 words [R]

Bra Shopping

by Parneshia Jones
Saturday afternoon, Marshall Fields, 2nd floor, women’s lingerie please.

At sixteen I am a jeans and t-shirt wearing tomboy who can think of 
a few million more places to be instead of in the department store 
with my mother bra shopping. 

Still growing accustomed to these two new welts 
lashed on to me by puberty, getting bigger by the moment, 
my mother looks at me and says:
While we’re here, we’ll get some new (larger) shirts for you too.
I resent her for taking me away from baseball fields,
horse play, and riding my bike.

We enter into no man’s, and I mean no man in sight land 
where women fuss and shop all day for undergarments; 
the lingerie department is a world of frilly lace, night gowns, 
grandma panties, and support everything.

Mama takes me over to a wall covered with hundreds of white bras,
some with lace and little frills or doilies like party favors,
as if undergarments were a cause for celebration. 

A few have these dainty ditsy bows in the middle. 
That’s a nice accent don’t you think? Mama would say. Isn’t that cute? 
Like this miniature bow in the middle will take 
some of the attention away from what is really going on. 

When Mama and I go brassiere shopping it never fails: 
a short woman with an accent and glasses 
attached to a chain around her neck who cares 
way too much about undergarments comes up to us. 
May I help you, dearies? 

The bra woman assists my mother in finding the perfect bra 
to, as my mother put it, hold me in the proper way. No bouncing please. 

Working as a team plotting to ruin my entire day 
with the bra fitting marathon, they conspire up about ten bras 
in each hand which equal forty. Who’s making all these bras I want to ask. 

What size is she? The bra woman asks. 
You want something that will support them honey, looking at me with a wink. 
My mother looks straight at my chest. Oh she’s good size. She’s out of that 
training bra phase. I want her to have something that will hold them up proper. 

Them, them, them they say. 
Like they’re two midgets I keep strapped to my chest.
The whole time I stand there while these two women, one my own kin, 
discuss the maintenance and storage of my two dependents.

The worst is yet to come, the dressing room.
I hate that damn dressing room, the mirrors waiting to laugh at me,
women running in and out half-naked with things showing 
that I didn’t even see on my own body. 

I stand there half-naked and pissed. Mama on one side, 
the bra woman on the other, I feel like a rag doll under interrogation 
as they begin fixing straps, poking me, raising me up, snapping the back, 
underwire digging my breasts a grave. 

The bras clamp down onto me, shaping my breasts out to pristine bullets, 
with no movement, no pulse, no life, just sitting fix up 
like my mother wanted real proper. 

I will never forgive my mother for this, I keep thinking to myself.
Looking blank face at my reflection I start thinking about how my brothers 
never have to shop for undergarments; why couldn’t I have been born a boy? 
I hate undergarments. 

Mama looks at my face. Don’t you like any of them? 
No, I say. Mama I hate this, please can we go? 
Then she goes into her lecture on becoming a woman 
and being responsible for woman upkeep. 

After we are halfway through the inventory
Mama looks at me wasting away in a sea of bras and takes pity on me. 
All right, I think we have enough to last you for a while. Let’s check out. 

I don’t get happy too quick ’cause I know that bra woman
still lurks about and if she senses my excitement that we are leaving
she will come with more white bras.

We make our way to the check out counter
and the bra woman rings us up.
Oh honey you picked out some beautiful bras, she says. 
Just remember hand wash. How about bury, I want to ask. 

She and my mother talk about how they are just right 
and will do the trick for me with no bouncing at all. 
My mother thanks her for torturing me and signals me 
to thank her as well. I thank her all right, but I also add her to my 
        secret hit list 
of people who have made my life miserable in some way.

We walk out of the department as if walking out of hell.
My mother turns and looks at me. Now really, was that so bad?

— This version of “Bra Shopping” is copyrighted 2005 and is republished here by permission of the author. A slightly shorter version appears under the same title in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Voice: Hyperion Books, 2011).

A version also appears in Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else, edited by Elise Paschen (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010), which includes an audio CD with a reading of the poem.

A significantly shorter version of “Bra Shopping” is forthcoming in the author’s first collection of poetry, Vessel (Milkweed Editions, 2015).

Parneshia Jones
Issue 1, Fall 2014

An acclaimed editor and poet, Parneshia Jones is a recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work is published in several anthologies including She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy (Hyperion, 2011); The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney (University of Georgia Press, 2007); and Poetry Speaks Who I Am, a book/CD compilation (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010).

She is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, a collective of multi-ethnic voices from Appalachia, and serves on the board of Cave Canem. She has performed her work throughout the United States including the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, the Art Institute in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University. Her poetry has been commissioned by Art for Humanity in South Africa as well as by Shorefront Legacy, and has been featured on Chicago Public Radio.

Ms. Jones studied creative writing at Chicago State University, earned an MFA from Spalding University, and studied publishing at Yale University. Her first collection, Vessel, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions (April, 2015). She is the Poetry Editor and Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager for Northwestern University Press.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Affrilachian Appreciation interview 4: Parneshia Jones talks to Teneice Delgado in Blood Lotus Literary Blog (29 October 2012); includes the poem, “Auto-Correcting History,” which first appeared in A Writer’s Congress: Chicago Poets on Barack Obama’s Inauguration, edited by Chris Green (DePaul Poetry Institute, 2009)

“...How I Walk and Breathe in This Good Earth,” an interview with Parneshia Jones, Lily Literary Review (Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2011)

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