Why do I feel guilty in the lingerie department at The Bay

Original Text: 
Susan Holbrook, misled (Red Deer, Alberta: Red Deer Press, 1999): 42-43.
2Brah, my mother used to say it, as in brat, claiming bra as in draw was an affectation. Either way is an affectation if you ask me, a way to unpronounce desire, a big cover-up.
3I walk over to the bin, my hand goes in. Yes, it's official, I want you in this emerald green satin bra, even though all you ever wear is a white sportsbra. Or sportbrah. And what if I bought it for you? Maybe you'd go for it. Maybe you'd give up your sportsbra for one evening. Nobody else would have to know. Maybe nothing is more important today than spending $29.99 and easing you into this emerald green satin bra.
6Her eyes dart to my chest, "That's little large probably, for you."
7"Oh, it's not for me it's for my sister-in-law."
8My cheek twitches with the lie, so it looks like I'm winking at her. Her hasty step backward sets a full rack of red lace thongs swinging. I notice she has a nametag that says Erma and a tape measure around her neck, which she now clutches at each end so that it cuts into her flesh like a bra strap that's too tight. There's no way she'll use the tape measure on me. That's for people who are genuinely casual, people with plastic skin and stainless steel nipples, people who would never salivate or lose their breath or get wet under the scuff and tug of Erma's tape measure. My nice woman fa&cced;ade is cracking off in great hunks and Erma can see the dirty old pervert beneath. She looks stunned. Like she's wondering how to protect all those bare-shouldered girls on the bra boxes from my leers, like she's about to call security. Or like she just realized, oh my god I work in the underwear department.
10Is this your brother? asks a hopeful Erma, clearly more comfortable with incest than dykes. Or maybe she directs your desire toward the absent sister-in-law. That fictional sister-in-law who will make this sale respectable. Poor dear sister-in-law, she's really in need of this bra. Her little Jake says mmm and oop--there she goes through the daisyfresh field of Erma's imagination, her breasts flopping around in a family values breeze, crying out for a little satin restraint. Mmm I answer, and Erma retreats into the stockroom to get the C. But Brother Jake has got a hold of his sister, refusing to let me take my clammy A-cups back to the loosewoman bin. Looks like we're buying in bulk today. Going for the emerald green satin bra family pak. Maybe later we'll go home and give each other a fitting. Get out the tape measure and play lingerie store. I get to be Erma, and you can be the woman in her prime, getting a little flushed.


1] The Bay: one of a chain of Hudson's Bay department stores across Canada.
Vogue Playtex Daisyfresh: three brand names for women's lingerie.
XXX: pornographic. Back to Line
4] 34B: breast measurement of 35-36 inches. Back to Line
5] C-cup: slightly above-average breast size. Back to Line
9] A-cups: small cup-size bras, about six inches bigger than the band. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Susan Holbrook and used by permission of the poet. Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from her in writing.