“The dress will survive us. The dress will be here when men come in boats to survey the damage.”
In his essay “A Poet’s Boyhood at the Burning Crossroads,” Saeed Jones speaks about how he used to write “Sad, rough little poems written in the voices of lonely, mythic people,” (Jones) specifically in the voices of women from Greek mythology, such as Medusa and Penelope. Jones wrote from the point of view of these women of legends because writing from their perspective allowed him to distance himself from his harsh realities. The passage “The dress will survive us. The dress will be here when men come in boats to survey the damage,” (Jones) comes from his poem by the name “Drag,” which paints the picture of a man wearing a dress that acts as if it is a living thing. The title itself along with the sentient nature of the dress in the poem invokes an image of a man living in the breathing disguise of a woman, which is reminiscent of how Jones used to write his poetry.
The specific line “when men come in boats to survey the damage” cites another story from Greek mythology: the ferryman of the dead, Charon. The other half of the passage, “the dress will survive us. the dress will be here,” illustrates queer survival and strength even in the face of adversity. Overall, this line of Jones’ poem tells the story of how the legacies of queer people will continue to live on, even when death comes knocking, similar to how Matthew Shepard’s devastating story lives on in Saeed Jones’. Jones states in his essay that when he heard the horrific tragedies that befell James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard, he could only think that “being a black gay boy is practically a death wish,” (Jones) but his poetry shows he has learned that death cannot silence a legacy.
While reading “Drag,” there was another line that stood out to me: “the dress slides with my body floating inside.” (Jones) This dress that acts as the centerpiece of the poem represents armor, something meant to symbolize the weakness of femininity in a patriarchal society made into a shield for someone who does not fit in. Jones uses his poetry to turn things that exhibit weakness, like a lovely dress and turns it into strength. He takes something as dreadful as death and transforms it into something beautiful.