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‘Wasn’t It All Twinkly When We Sang Happy Birthday?’

Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ dress
sells for record $4.8m – BBC News

I hated the storage years,
each of my hand-stitched crystals
dulled by moths and cobwebs.
I craved Madison Square again,
the night they sewed you in
to my rib-chafing tightness,
my flesh-coloured brashness.
Under the lights, you shrugged
your fur from me with a shimmy
and the chainmail of my jewels
became your battle dress. At first
those at the back of the room
believed you were nude. At thirty-six,
they said you’d grown softer,
but the outlines of your silvery
bones glinted with a new sharpness.
I clasped you tight as a corset,
until your ribcage swelled
and your breath strained its way out:
your voice little more than a gasp
and a pant at first – so low,
like you were sharing a secret,
but those tones cut the night air
like a scythe. You were down
to your last few months. This stage
was our temple: you stomped
your feet to the beat of the drum
and backstage powerful men trembled.


Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was born in Ely and now lives in Norfolk with her husband and three children. Her pamphlet Glass was a winner in the Paper Swans inaugural pamphlet competition and her debut collection, Sightings, is forthcoming from Pindrop Press. Her poems have appeared in The Rialto, Mslexia, Magma, Stand and The Cannon’s Mouth.

‘I saw the picture of Marilyn that my tutor Sally Flint posted as a prompt, during the same week in which I read in the news that Marilyn’s “Happy Birthday” dress had sold for $4.8 million. I thought that taking on Marilyn’s voice in a poem would be a challenge in terms of originality; there are entire websites dedicated to Marilyn poems, so I chose to write from the perspective of the dress.’


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