Dim Lady

My honeybunch's peepers are nothing like neon. Today's spe-
cial at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid paper is
white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys,
dishwater Slinkys would grow on her noggin. I have seen table-
cloths in Shakey's Pizza Parlors, red and white, but no such pic-
nic colors do I see in her mug. And in some minty-fresh mouth-
washes there is more sweetness than in the garlic breeze my 
main squeeze wheezes. I love to hear her rap, yet I'm aware that 
Muzak has a hipper beat. I don't know any Marilyn Monroes.
My ball and chain is plain from head to toe. And yet, by gosh,
my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any
lanky model or platinum movie idol who's hyped beyond belief.


--Harryette Mullen

from Sleeping With the Dictionary, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

In an interview with Daniel Kane, Mullen makes explicit the poetics she plays with: the sonnet convention as read through William Shakespeare. Specifically, she is playing off of the final group in Shakespeare's 1609 collection of sonnets, addressed to a person once commonly labeled the "Dark Lady." As Mullen also notes, Shakespeare was himself having fun with the convention of the love sonnet as inherited from the Italian poet Petrarch, and reworked famously by Sir Philip Sidney with his sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella (1581-82).

Below is the Shakespeare sonnet Mullen riffs on:

Sonnet 130


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun-- Coral is far more red than her lips' red-- If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun-- If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head: I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such rose see I in her cheeks, And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound. I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet by heav'n I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare. --William Shakespeare

from Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. with analytic commentary by Stephen Booth. Yale University Press, 1977.

And compare to a prose translation of a sonnet by Petrarch to his love "Laura" (c. 1366), below.

No. 12


If I can withstand the bitter torment and the struggles for so long that I may see, Lady, the light of your lovely eyes dimmed by the power of your last years and your hair of fine gold made silver, see you abandon garlands and clothes of green, and see your face lose its hue, which in my misfortunes makes me slow and reluctant to lament; then at least Love will give me so much boldness that I shall disclose to you what have been the years and the days and the hours of my sufferings; and if time is hostile to my sweet desires, at least it will not prevent my sorrow from receiving some little help of tardy sighs. --Petrarch

from Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime sparse and Other Lyrics, trans. and ed. by Robert M. Durling. Harvard University Press, 1976.