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Jesslyn Whittell

$20 lingerie


Can you look hot in $20 lingerie?

It is late winter, I have a date tonight, and you would like to see me

in lingerie. I agreed because I see how hot it makes other people, 

and because we are going to a poetry reading tonight,

and the reading was my idea, so I probably owe you

(today pleasure is and is not an exchange in consensual quanta)

but I can’t decide if $20 is too much or not enough to spend

on the negligible, and in the unflattering light of the Target fitting room,

the problem of vulnerability has chilled the world to a doctor’s office,

and I simply can’t lie back in my soul and prepare,

clinically, for my own desire. Look at my body, adequately filling

the polyester outline of a body, the satin highlighting

the space between us, its purpose being

not to be removed but to extend the possibility

of removal for as long as possible. I don’t mind being a cliché,

that’s not the problem, no one’s love is unique. My first fantasy

was that a great wave of cartoon-blue water swept my body 

into Jesus’, until our mouths touched, and I thought this was a sin and

I confused love and harm for years, willed myself to the abstraction.

Then I came out as queer by cuffing my jeans,

and at that point I understood love as a category  

of dispersal we learn to survive. But this mesh corset,

the second to last in my size, is too cheap

to look accidental, too expensive to look real,

and still costs money, meaning I would have to yield 

some of my hypothetical value to another hypothetical value,

and I must be awake for the whole procedure, reposing in a sky

borrowed from elsewhere, since the place I used 

to be is evaporating, and in LA’s late winter, it is already 80 degrees at 3pm,

and in this weather, $0 lingerie will always be the hottest. 

I consider my options. It’s taken me months

to find the liminal with you, the expansive one—not atoms

of mine left in your bed, but wide fields

and what would fill them other than you and me

crushing the grass with a soft blanket,

wind stopping up my mouth with excess of breath—

and I can only open myself to it

like a landlord’s binder of keys, with a jingle.

Jesslyn Whittell (she/her) is a poet and grad student at UCLA. Her recent poetry can be found in Afternoon Visitor, Corporeal, ANMLY, b l u s h, and Black Warrior Review, and her chapbook Slow Tapping to Help You Sleep [ASMR] is out with Bottlecap Press.

$20 lingerieJesslyn Whittell
00:00 / 02:36
OwingJesslyn Whittell
00:00 / 00:52



I sewed my rent into a dress

since it was due today.


The fabric was called beautiful inside.

It was the color of rent.


The pattern I chose was simple.


It was a boxy dress without buttons or zippers.


I measured it with city streets.


I held a few pins in my mouth as I worked.


They tasted like rent.


But when I put them in the dress to dart the waist,

I could taste the fabric.


It tasted like metal.


The sewing machine I used was a conversation

I had with the institution that is my landlord.


The thread was rent.

The scissors that cut the thread were also rent.


The hem that the thread and the scissors made

was not rent, it was a year.


Then the dress was done.


I put it on.


I became a room.


I took it off.


I became a lake.

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