X Marks the Dress: A Registry

By Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess


Gold Wake Press
August 2013


Reviewed by Laura Madeline Wiseman


In X Marks the Dress: A Registry, a collaborative poetry collection by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess, X equals female—as in gender, as in sex—much like Leslie Adrienne Miller's newest collection Y (from Graywolf Press) ponders maleness, male sons, and mothering a man to be. For Darling and Guess, X is the bride who's "prettiest in a wedding album, every ruffle on [her] dress neatly pressed, every strand of [her] hair in place." X is also the mistress who's "at her best when she's helpless." X is the mother who "was a runaway bride" and the bridesmaids "clawing for one bouquet." X is heroine, sister, woman, wife, salesgirl, girlfriend, girl, and the "girls seeking girls."

And this X as sex seems fairly stable if it weren't for the "queer combinations" when Guess and Darling write, "The woman I'm not is realer than the man I only seem to be," or in "Gift Certificate to Victoria's Secret" when they write, "I'm so many men in the back of a cab. Husband or lover? Plastic of paper? Sometimes I'm a woman, too: stiletto heels and a blue lace bra." And in "His-and-Hers" they write, "After all, she had told the baby teenager that the internet hadn't always existed, and that she had been a man in a previous life." X Marks the Dress marks out the instability of gender, of femaleness, and of the gender roles seemingly assigned by marriage in a current culture where the meaning of marriage is being revaluated, remade, and redrawn, like a cartographer might plot anew an area of land after a seismic shift. Darling and Guess seem to suggest that like gender, the contemporary map of marriage is being recreated from many sides, perhaps in part due to new legislation like the end of DOMA and the numerous states now granting marriage to all.

If X doesn't equal female in X Marks the Dress, perhaps the X is the proverbial kiss that seals the deal that the wedding dress signals, something Darling and Guess explore in their poem "A History of Wedding Invitations: Glossary of Terms." They define seven terms, including "bride" and "dress," writing: 

bride. A woman who chooses her attire without anticipating its inevitable interpretation. In the wedding album, her shoulders are bare and visible above the lace trimmings on a white silk dress.


dress. To bedeck oneself or another. She had hoped the dark blue nightdress would entice but also threaten and trouble him. Its diaphanous sleeves and intricately embellished hemline.

"Kiss" is not one of their terms. So, does X signify the XXOO or the X at the end of the aisle or not? Guess and Darling seem to lament that "There are six of me, at least" and only one who's "respectable, the one you kiss," in part because they "know too much to say I do." As such, in the entire collection, there is only that one kiss, that one X, with nary a kiss before and not a kiss after. Later, in "An Index of Illustrations," there is a figure that offers "an elaborate collection of unused wedding invitations," and later still, the poets write, "By the time I turned forty, I knew that I would never be married" and so threw a "non-wedding party, a non-ceremony during which I would not get married." 

If X isn't female and X isn't the kiss, then does X mark the spot, as in X equals the booty and prize one finds after following the dashes and lines of some treasure map, some fortune hunter's handwritten guide? Certainly Darling and Guess do not offer readers a clear plot or an expected arrangement in X Marks the Dress. Their lyrical collaboration is more experimental than linear, more questioning than answering. The book contains a literal registry in the table of contents with poem titles (with or without parentheses) like "Ice Cream Scoop" and "His-and-Her Key Rings," interspersed with five bracketed titles that list wedding favors such as chocolate truffles and votive candles. For example, an excerpt of the Table of Contents reads:


{Pierced Tablespoons}                       10

Silk Flowers, Trussed                         11

{Cup & Saucers}                               12


[Wedding Favor: Soup Bubbles]          24

Fireproof Safe                                    25


After this table of gifts are three appendices, a glossary, an index, and a set of endnotes. Follow this list and learn nuptial slang in Appendix B and what survived the house fire in Appendix C, the latter a fragmented long poem that seems to pull lines and phrases from the registry. And if one follows this map, this table, one finds the final X on the last page that is footnoted, the X3, where the note reveals, "The guests could hear her dress rustling as she walked away from the altar. Even then, the white lace trim had begun to unravel."

Perhaps what Guess and Darling are seeking to do in X Marks the Dress: A Registry is to unravel the simple and easy expectations that mark those who wear dresses, that mark those marked X, that mark those who fill out a registry, and those who look up the registry in the hopes to buy the bride what they think she needs, well aware of (and perhaps in spite of) the idea that "sometimes things go wrong at weddings" and that "there are so many things that can go wrong in a marriage." Perhaps the X Darling and Guess are really pointing to is the X where one signs the marriage license. And for that X, that name, they advise, "Use erasable ink."