The collection of poems, so far…colecția de poezii   Leave a comment

Maxine W. Kumin

Sonnets Uncorseted
2012

1

She was twenty-two. He was fifty-three,

a duke, a widower with ten children.

They met in Paris, each in exile from

the English Civil War. Virginal

and terrified, still she agreed

to marry him. Though women were mere chattel

spinsterhood made you invisible

in the sixteen hundreds. Marriage was arranged

—hers a rare exception. Despite a dowry

a woman never could own property.

Your womb was just for rent. Birth control

contrivances—a paste of ants, cow dung

mashed with honey, tree bark with pennyroyal—

all too often failed the applicant.

2

If anything went wrong you bled to death.

You bore & bore & bore as you were taught

screaming sometimes for days in childbirth.

To bring forth was a woman’s fate

but not for Margaret Cavendish, childless

Duchess of Newcastle. After the head

of Charles the First had been detached

and the Restoration seated a new monarch,

she and the duke returned to his estate

where nothing discomposed their paradise.

How rare, two lovers scribbling away,

admiring each other’s words in privacy.

He: polymath, equestrian, playwright.

She: philosopher, fantasist, poet.

3

His the first book on the art of dressage,

till then an untried humane approach

to teaching classic paces in the manège,

the grace of the levade and the piaffe.

Hers the goofy utopian fantasy,

The Blazing-World. The heroine is adrift

with her kidnapper in a wooden skiff.

A storm comes up conveniently, and they

are blown to the North Pole. He freezes to death

but she is carried to a contiguous

North Pole, a new world where the emperor

falls in love with her, makes her his empress

and cedes her all his powers over

clans of wildly invented creatures.

4

Poems, plays, philosophical

discourses on Platonic love,

a chapter on her Birth, Breeding, and Life

and an Apology for Writing so Much

Upon this Book about herself,

even some inquiries into science…

years in chosen isolation the Duchess

filled with words, and the Duke with reassurance.

Even this outburst did not discomfit him:

Men are so unconscionable and cruel

…they would fain Bury us in their…beds as in

a grave…[T]he truth is, we live like Bats or Owls,

Labour like Beasts, and die like Worms. Pepys

called her mad, conceited, and ridiculous.

5

Virginia Woolf, in 1928,

found her Quixotic and high-spirited

as well as somewhat crack-brained and bird witted

but went on to see in her a vein

of authentic fire. Eighty-odd years on,

flamboyant, eccentric, admittedly vain,

now she’s a respected foremother among

women of letters. Founded in 1997,

the Margaret Cavendish Society

— “international, established to provide

communication between scholars worldwide”—

is plumped with learned papers, confabs, dues.

She’s an aristocrat who advocates

—words worn across centuries—for women’s rights.

 

6

I went to college in the nineteen forties

read Gogol, Stendhal, Zola, Flaubert.

Read Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky

and wrote exams that asked: contrast and compare.

Male novelists, male profs, male tutors, not

a single woman on the faculty

nor was there leaven found among the poets

I read and loved: G.M. Hopkins, A.E.

Housman, Auden, Yeats, only Emily

(not quite decoded or yet in the canon).

Ten years later, I struggled to break in

the almost all-male enclave of poetry.

Here’s a small glimpse in the the hierarchy:

famed Robert Lowell praising Marianne

7

as the best woman poet in America, put down

by Langston Hughes, bless his egalitarian

soul, who rose at the dinner to pronounce

her the best Negro woman poet in the nation.

Terrified of writing domestic poems,

poems pungent with motherhood, anathema

to the prevailing clique of male pooh-bahs,

somehow I balanced teaching freshman comp

half-time with kids, meals, pets, errands, spouse.

I wrote in secret, read drafts on the phone

with another restless mother, Anne Sexton,

and poco a poco our poems filled up the house.

Then one of us sold a poem to The New Yorker.

A week later, the other was welcomed in Harper’s.

8

But even  as we published our first books

the visiting male bards required care.

We drove them to their readings far and near,

thence to the airport just in time to make

their flight to the next gig. You drive like a man,

they said by way of praise, and if a poem

of ours seemed worthy they said, you write like a man.

When asked what woman poet they read, with one

voice they declaimed, Emily Dickinson.

Saintly Emily safely dead. Modern

women poets were dismissed as immature,

their poems pink with the glisten of female organs.

The virus of their disdain hung in the air

but women were now infected with ambition.

9

We didn’t merely saunter decade by decade.

We swept on past de Beauvoir and Friedan,

and took courage from Carolyn Kizer’s knife-blade

Pro Femina: I will speak about women

of letters for I’m in the racket, urging,

Stand up and be hated, and swear not to sleep with editors.

If a woman is to write, Virginia Woolf

has Mary Beton declare, she has to have

five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door,

a sacred space where Shakespeare’s sister Judith

might have equaled his prodigious gift

or not. She might have simply floated there,

set loose in the privilege of privacy, her self

unwritten, under no one else’s eyes…

 

10

 

Oh, Duchess, come hurdle five centuries

to a land of MFA’s in poetry,

of journals in print and even more online,

small presses popping up like grapes on vines,

reading staking place in every cranny,

prizes for first books, some with money.

Come to this apex of tenured women professors

where sessions on gender and race fill whole semesters

and students immerse themselves in women’s studies.

Meet famous poets who are also unabashed mothers

or singletons by choice or same-sex partners—

black, Latina, Asian, native American,

white , Christian, Muslim, Jew and atheist—

come join us, Duchess Margaret Cavendish.

“Michael Field” (literary double  of Katherine Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper)

Consistancy

1898

 

I love her with the seasons, with the winds,

As the stars worship, as anemones

Shudder in secret for the sun, as bees

Buzz round an open flower: in all kinds

My love is perfect, and in each she finds

Herself the goal: then why, intent to teaze

And rob her delicate spirit of its ease,

Hastes she to range me with inconstant minds?

If she should die, if I were left at large

On earth without her-I, on earth, the same

Quick mortal with a thousand cries, her spell

She fears would break. And I confront the charge

As sorrowing, and as careless of my fame

As Christ intact before the infidel.

Aphra Behn

To the Fair Clarinda

1688

 

Who made love to me, Imagin’d more than woman.

Fair lovely Maid, or if that Title be

Too weak, too Feminine for Nobler thee,

Permit a Name that more Approaches Truth:

And let me call thee, Lovely Charming Youth.

This last will justifie my soft complaint,

While that may serve to lessen my constraint;

And without Blushes I the Youth persue,

When so much beauteous Woman is in view.

Against thy Charms we struggle but in vain

With thy deluding Form thou giv’st us pain,

While the bright Nymph betrays us to the Swain.

In pity to our Sex sure thou wer’t sent,

That we might Love, and yet be Innocent:

For sure no Crime with thee we can commit;

Or if we shou’d – thy Form excuses it.

For who, that gathers fairest Flowers believes

A Snake lies hid beneath the Fragrant Leaves.

Though beauteous Wonder of a different kind,

Soft Cloris with the dear Alexis join’d;

When e’er the Manly part of thee, wou’d plead

Though tempts us with the Image of the Maid,

While we the noblest Passions do extend

The Love to Hermes, Aphrodite the Friend.

Wu Tsao

For the Courtesan Ch’ing Lin (Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung)

(born around 1800)

 

On your slender body

Your jade and coral girdle ornaments chime

Like those of a celestial companion

Come from the Green Jade City of Heaven.

One smile from you when we meet,

And I become speechless and forget every word.

For too long you have gathered flowers,

And leaned against the bamboos,

Your green sleeves growing cold,

In your deserted valley:

I can visualize you all alone,

A girl harboring her cryptic thoughts.

You glow like a perfumed lamp

In the gathering shadows.

We play wine games

And recite each other’s poems.

Then you sing `Remembering South of the River’

With its heart breaking verses. Then

We paint each other’s beautiful eyebrows.

I want to possess you completely –

Your jade body

And your promised heart.

It is Spring.

Vast mists cover the Five Lakes.

My dear, let me buy a red painted boat

And carry you away.

Charlotte Mew

On the Road to the Sea

1916

 

We passed each other, turned and stopped for half an hour, then went our way,

I who make other women smile did not make you–

But no man can move mountains in a day.

So this hard thing is yet to do.

But first I want your life:–before I die I want to see

The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,

There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be,

Yet on brown fields there lies

A haunting purple bloom: is there not something in grey skies

And in grey sea?

I want what world there is behind your eyes,

I want your life and you will not give it me.

Now, if I look, I see you walking down the years,

Young, and through August fields–a face, a thought, a swinging dream

perched on a stile–;

I would have liked (so vile we are!) to have taught you tears

But most to have made you smile.

To-day is not enough or yesterday: God sees it all–

Your length on sunny lawns, the wakeful rainy nights–; tell me–;

(how vain to ask), but it is not a question–just a call–;

Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the garden wall,

I like you best when you are small.

Is this a stupid thing to say

Not having spent with you one day?

No matter; I shall never touch your hair

Or hear the little tick behind your breast,

Still it is there,

And as a flying bird

Brushes the branches where it may not rest

I have brushed your hand and heard

The child in you: I like that best

So small, so dark, so sweet; and were you also then too grave and wise?

Always I think. Then put your far off little hand in mine;–

Oh! let it rest;

I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,

Or vex or scare what I love best.

But I want your life before mine bleeds away–

Here–not in heavenly hereafters–soon,–

I want your smile this very afternoon,

(The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,

I wanted and I sometimes got–the Moon!)

You know, at dusk, the last bird’s cry,

And round the house the flap of the bat’s low flight,

Trees that go black against the sky

And then–how soon the night!

No shadow of you on any bright road again,

And at the darkening end of this–what voice? whose kiss? As if you’d say!

It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take away

Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner’s grain

From your reaped fields at the shut of day.

Peace! Would you not rather die

Reeling,–with all the cannons at your ear?

So, at least, would I,

And I may not be here

To-night, to-morrow morning or next year.

Still I will let you keep your life a little while,

See dear?

I have made you smile.

Qiu Jin

On Request for a Poem

 

Do not tell me women

are not the stuff of heroes,

I alone rode over the East Sea’s

winds for ten thousand leagues.

My poetic thoughts ever expand,

like a sail between ocean and heaven.

I dreamed of your three islands,

all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.

I grieve to think of the bronze camels,

guardians of China, lost in thorns.

Ashamed, I have done nothing

not one victory to my name.

I simply make my war horse sweat.

 

Grieving over my native land

hurts my heart. So tell me:

how can I spend these days here?

A guest enjoying your spring winds?

 

Joy Harjo

She Had some Horses

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of the sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shown and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse.”
She had horses who called themselves, “spirit,” and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed.

She had some horses

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

Edna St Vincent Millay

The Singing-Woman from the wood’s edge

from A few Figs from Thistles

1922

 

What should I be but a prophet and a liar,

Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar?

Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water,

What should I be but the fiend’s god-daughter?

 

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,

That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?

And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,

But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

 

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,

As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,

You will find such flame at the wave’s weedy ebb

As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother’s web,

 

But there comes to birth no common spawn

From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,

And you never have seen and you never will see

Such things as the things that swaddled me!

 

After all’s said and after all’s done,

What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

 

In through the bushes, on any foggy day,

My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,

With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,

A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

 

And there sit my Ma, her knees beneath her chin,

A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,

And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying

That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

 

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,

He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,

He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,

And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

 

Oh, the things I haven’t seen and the things I haven’t known,

What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,

And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,

With a “Which would you better?” and a “Which would you rather?”

 

With him for a sire and her for a dam,

What should I be but just what I am?

 

Edna St Vincent Millay

Sonnet 4 from A few Figs from Thistles

1922

 

I SHALL forget you presently, my dear,

So make the most of this, your little day,

Your little month, your little half a year,

Ere I forget, or die, or move away,

And we are done forever; by and by

I shall forget you, as I said, but now,

If you entreat me with your loveliest lie

I will protest you with my favorite vow.

I would indeed that love were longer-lived,

And vows were not so brittle as they are,

But so it is, and nature has contrived

To struggle on without a break thus far,–

Whether or not we find what we are seeking

Is idle, biologically speaking.

Elsa Gidlow

For the Goddess Too Well Known

1918

 

I have robbed the garrulous streets,

Thieved a fair girl from their blight,

I have stolen her for a sacrifice

That I shall make to this night.

I have brought her, laughing,

To my quietly dreaming garden.

For what will be done there

I ask no man pardon.

I brush the rouge from her cheeks,

Clean the black kohl from the rims

Of her eyes; loose her hair;

Uncover the glimmering, shy limbs.

I break wild roses, scatter them over her.

The thorns between us sting like love’s pain.

Her flesh, bitter and salt to my tongue,

I taste with endless kisses and taste again.

At dawn I leave her

Asleep in my wakening garden.

(For what was done there

I ask no man pardon.)

Love’s Acolyte

1919

 

Many have loved you with lips and fingers

And lain with you till the moon went out;

Many have brought you lover’s gifts!

And some have left their dreams on your doorstep.

But I who am youth among your lovers

Come like an acolyte to worship,

My thirsting blood restrained by reverence,

My heart a wordless prayer.

The candles of desire are lighted,

I bow my head, afraid before you,

A mendicant who craves your bounty

Ashamed of what small gifts she brings.

 

Natalie Barney

Double Being

 1920

A northern mind, a face from Italy,

A double fate lived all too fatally,

A look fresh as a childs, both soft and sharp,

A clarion-voice, then liquid as a harp!

A natural being, yet from nature freed,

Like a Shakespearean boy of fairy breed —

A sex perplexed into attractive seeming

— Both sex at best, the strangeness so redeeming! —

Hands hard to loosen if for once they cling,

Yet frail as Leicester’s wearing a queen’s ring.

A page-clothed Rosalind to play a part,

A brow of genius and a lonely heart.

   

Lola Ridge

Dreams, 1918

 

Men die…

Dreams only change their houses.

They cannot be lined up against a wall

And quietly buried under ground,

And no more heard of…

However deep the pit and heaped the clay –

Like seedlings of old time

Hooding a sacred rose under the ice cap of the world –

Dreams will to light.

Lola Ridge

Tidings (Easter 1916),

1918
Censored lies that mimic truth…
Censored truth as pale as fear..

My heart is like a rousing bell –

And but the dead to hear…

My heart is like a mother bird,
Circling ever higher,
And the nest-tree rimmed about
By a forest fire…

My heart is like a lover foiled
By a broken stair –
They are fighting to-night in Sackville Street,
And I am not there!

Lucía Sánchez Saornil

Canto nuevo (1920)

[For English, scroll down. Sim trad]

¡Oh, cuánto tiempo HORA NUESTRA
te hemos esperado!, ¡cuánto!
Oh, cuántas veces tendimos
el cable de nuestra mirada limpia al futuro
y aplicamos el oído extático
al viento,
ávidos de distinguir
tu música en embrión!
¡Oh, cuántas veces
el diamante de nuestro deseo
partió el cristal del horizonte
buscándote más allá de la aurora!

Y al fin te poseemos,
HORA NUESTRA;
al fin podremos mecerte en nuestros brazos
y escribir tu claro nombre en nuestras frentes.

Hermanos,
he aquí, todo cumplido;
hagamos braserillos en el hueco de nuestras manos
para esta “LLAMA ALARGADA”.

El horizonte es la pauta, hermanos.
Nuestros martillos, pulidos y brillantes
como uña de mujer,
canten sobre las columnas truncas,
sobre los frisos rotos.
Tal un vendaval impetuoso
borremos todos los caminos,
arruinemos todos los puentes,
desarraiguemos todos los rosales;
sea todo liso como una laguna
para trazar después
la ciudad nueva.

Tiranos del esfuerzo
nuestros brazos levantarán esta vieja Tierra
como en una consagración.

Un abanico de llamas
consumirá las viejas vestiduras
y triunfaremos, desnudos y blancos,
como las estrellas.
Lo que hemos creado esta hora
alcanzaremos todas las audacias;

NOSOTROS EDIFICAREMOS

LAS PIRÁMIDES INVERTIDAS.

New Song (1920)

Oh how long OUR HOUR
we have waited for you! How long!
Oh how many times we’d lay
the cable of our clear gaze to the future
and we’d lend extatic ears to the wind
eager to grasp
your embryonic music!
Oh how many times
the diamond of our desire
broke the glass of horizon
looking for you beyond the aurora!

And finally we have you,
OUR HOUR;
finally we will rock you in our arms
and write your clear name on our foreheads.

Brothers,
it is here, all fulfilled
let’s make burners in the hollow of our hands
for this “SPREADING CRY”

The horizon is our guideline, brothers.
Our hammers, polished and shiny
like the nail of a woman
sing over truncated columns,
over broken friezes.
Like an impetuous wind,
let us erase all roads,
ruin all bridges,
uproot all rose bushes;
Let all be smooth as a pond
on which to trace
the new city.

Tyrants of effort
our arms rise this old Earth
like a consecration.

A range of flames
will consume the old garments
and we will triumph, naked and white,
like the stars.

What we will create in this hour
goes beyond all audacities;
WE WILL BUILD
THE INVERTED PYRAMIDS.

Lisa Gill

DOLLY SHOTS BEFORE AND AFTER SACCO AND VANZETTI

2011

for Lola Ridge

“Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards the other day?”

– Judge Webster Thayer

 

A camera mounted on a wheeled platform is still

in 1914 silent

unlikely to catch the ways and means of night sweats

no talkies yet

only a handkerchief over the mouth

airborne idiom of pride

or shame

or TB

though a girl dumping a tattered doll into the ditch

makes the printing press by the 20’s

might have made nitrate film

flammable

with a quick pan to a man

“falling” 14 stories from the New York Department

of Justice in 1920.

Forgive me really I want to spoon

sugar

into the holes of Lola Ridge’s body

exhumed

as an apology she’d understand because today

and too often I cannot write

a political poem

though I also have done as girls do

practice early toying with the execution

of power knowing later

(or sooner) need

will necessitate empathy with the beaten

down or executed.

Even with the improperly eulogized

woman

who kept sickness under wraps while protesting

everything

she knew wrong coughing

blood is wrong is a red flag that wouldn’t pass

through congress

as a concept of economic care for the disabled

until more than a decade after

the 1943 development of streptomycin

two years after she was already dead and still.

Mina Loy

Parturition

1923

I am the centre

Of a circle of pain

Exceeding its boundaries in every direction

The business of the bland sun

Has no affair with me

In my congested cosmos of agony

From which there is no escape

On infinitely prolonged nerve-vibrations

Or in contraction

To the pinpoint nucleus of being

Locate an irritation without

It is within

Within

It is without.

The sensitized area

Is identical with the extensity

Of intension

I am the false quantity

In the harmony of physiological potentiality

To which

Gaining self-control

I should be consonant

In time

Pain is no stronger than the resisting force

Pain calls up in me

The struggle is equal

The open window is full of a voice

A fashionable portrait painter

Running upstairs to a woman’s apartment

Sings

“All the girls are tid’ly did’ly

All the girls are nice

Whether they wear their hair in curls

Or —”

At the back of the thoughts to which I permit crystallization

The conception Brute

Why?

The irresponsibility of the male

Leaves woman her superior Inferiority.

He is running upstairs

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony

Incidentally with the exhaustion of control

I reach the summit

And gradually subside into anticipation of

Repose

Which never comes.

For another mountain is growing up

Which goaded by the unavoidable

I must traverse

Traversing myself

Something in the delirium of night hours

Confuses while intensifying sensibility

Blurring spatial contours

So aiding elusion of the circumscribed

That the gurgling of a crucified wild beast

Comes from so far away

And the foam on the stretched muscles of a mouth

Is no part of myself

There is a climax in sensibility

When pain surpassing itself

Becomes exotic

And the ego succeeds in unifying the positive and

negative poles of sensation

Uniting the opposing and resisting forces

In lascivious revelation

Relaxation

Negation of myself as a unit

Vacuum interlude

I should have been emptied of life

Giving life

For consciousness in crises races

Through the subliminal deposits of evolutionary processes

Have I not

Somewhere

Scrutinized

A dead white feathered moth

Laying eggs?

A moment

Being realization

Can

Vitalized by cosmic initiation

Furnish an adequate apology

For the objective

Agglomeration of activities

Of a life

LIFE

A leap with nature

Into the essence

Of unpredicted Maternity

Against my thigh

Tough of infinitesimal motion

Scarcely perceptible

Undulation

Warmth moisture

Stir of incipient life

Precipitating into me

The contents of the universe

Mother I am

Identical

With infinite Maternity

Indivisible

Acutely

I am absorbed

Into

The was-is-ever-shall-be

Of cosmic reproductivity

Rises from the subconscious

Impression of a cat

With blind kittens

Among her legs

Same undulating life-stir

I am that cat

Rises from the subconscious

Impression of small animal carcass

Covered with blue bottles

— Epicurean –

And through the insects

Waves that same undulation of living

Death

Life

I am knowing

All about

Unfolding

The next morning

Each woman-of-the-people

Tiptoeing the red pile of the carpet

Doing hushed service

Each woman-of-the-people

Wearing a halo

A ludicrous little halo

Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church

— Man and woman God made them —

Thank God.

Claude Cahun

Aveux Non Avenus (Cancelled Confessions), 1930

 

Section I

“I welcomed young monsters into myself and nurtured them. But the make-up I had used seemed indelible. I rubbed so hard to remove it that I took off all the skin. And my soul, like a flayed face, naked, no longer had a human form.”

 

Section II

“Tendency to push everything to the absolute, and thus: to the absurd.”

 

Section III

E.D.M.

“Surely you are not claiming to be more homosexual than I?…”

 

Section IV

C.M.C.

Permit me to warn reckless young women: seeing the trap doesn’t prevent you from getting caught in it and that doubles the pleasure.”

 

Section V:

“What does a well behaved child dream about, apart from the inhumane, the monstrous, the impossible? The ordinary.”

 

Section VI

“it is only when we resign ourselves to necessary partialities,

that we can allow our mask’s moulds to set”

 

Section VIII

“May the birds not expect any speeches about aviation from me.”

 

Section IX

“Angels with patched wings, sails: flirtations, last-minute modesties…let’s use up heaven down to the dregs, the verb down to the insult, the espadrille and the lyre down to the last string.”

Suzanne Bratcher

Gardening in MS

2008

 

I have a dog-eared book

on my shelf. It’s called

Gardening in the Southwest.

My friend Mary has a book

like it. It’s called

Gardening in the Tropics.

My friend Nadine has

one too. It’s called

Gardening in Granite.

Maybe I’ll write a new

book. I think I’ll call it

Gardening in MS.

Some chapters will be the same,

topics most gardeners

already know:

“Gardening in Small Spaces,”

“Gardening in Containers,”

“Gardening in Shade.”

Other chapters will be new,

you might even say

ground-breaking:

“Gardening in Moonlight,”

“Gardening in a Chair,”

“Gardening in Relapse.”

Not many gardeners will need

my book, but those who do

will discover it’s about

dirt under our fingernails

and the sometimes surprising

tenacity of life.

Pauli Murray

Returning Spring, 1970 (in the volume Dark Testament)

 

I’ll sink my roots far down

And drink from hidden rivers,

Renew my kinship with growing things—

The little ants will hold their congresses

Upon my arm, and cautious insects

Will make brief tours across my brows

And spiders spin webs from toe to toe.

 

The spears of sun will prick

No blade of grass to wakefulness

But I shall feel it tremble,

No further straw be laid upon a nest,

No twig but I shall see it quiver.

 

I’ll hear the symphonies within a stone,

Catch every murmur of the ground,

Travel the heavens with each vagrant cloud

And ark the golden islands in the sky.

Kishwar Naheed

The grass is really like me    [Translated from Urdu to English by Rukhsana Ahmed]

1999

 

The grass is also like me

it has to unfurl underfoot to fulfil itself

but what does its wetness manifest:

a scorching sense of shame

or the heat of emotion?

 

The grass is also like me

As soon as it can raise its head

the lawnmower

obsessed with flattening it into velvet,

mows it down again.

How you strive and endeavour

to level woman down too!

But neither the earth’s nor woman’s

desire to manifest life dies.

Take my advice: the idea of making a footpath was a good one.

 

Those who cannot bear the scorching defeat of their courage

are grafted on to the earth.

That`s how they make way for the mighty

but they are merely straw not grass

-the grass is really like me.

Amy Lowell

A Lady, 1919

 

You are beautiful and faded

Like an old opera tune

Played upon a harpsichord;

Or like the sun-flooded silks

Of an eighteenth-century boudoir.

In your eyes

Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes,

And the perfume of your soul

Is vague and suffusing,

With the pungence of sealed spice-jars.

Your half-tones delight me,

And I grow mad with gazing

At your blent colours.

 

My vigour is a new-minted penny,

Which I cast at your feet.

Gather it up from the dust,

That its sparkle may amuse you.

Marilyn Hacker

Ivas Pantoum

1942

 

We pace each other for a long time.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the baby on the mountain. I am
in a cold stream where I led you.

I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the woman sticking her tongue out
in a cold stream where I led you.
You are the woman with spring water palms.

You are the woman sticking her tongue out.
I am the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman with spring water palms.
I am the woman who copies.

You are the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who copies
her cupped palm with her fist in clay.

I am the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who shapes
a drinking bowl with her fist in clay.
I am the woman with rocks in her pockets.

I am the woman who shapes.
I was a baby who knew names.
You are the child with rocks in her pockets.
You are the girl in a plaid dress.

You are the woman who knows names.
You are the baby who could fly.
You are the girl in a plaid dress
upside-down on the monkey bars.

You are the baby who could fly
over the moon from a swinging perch
upside-down on the monkey bars.
You are the baby who eats meat.

Over the moon from a swinging perch
the feathery goblin calls her sister.
You are the baby who eats meat
the bitch wolf hunts and chews for you.

The feathery goblin calls her sister:
“You are braver than your mother.
The bitch wolf hunts and chews for you.
What are you whining about now?”

You are braver than your mother
and I am not a timid woman:
what are you whining about now?
My palms itch with slick anger,

and I’m not a timid woman.
You are the woman I can’t mention;
my palms itch with slick anger.
You are the heiress of scraped knees.

You are the woman I can’t mention
to a woman I want to love.
You are the heiress of scaped knees:
scrub them in mountain water.

To a woman, I want to love
women you could turn into,
scrub them in mountain water,
stroke their astonishing faces.

Women you could turn into
the scare mask of Bad Mother
stroke their astonishing faces
in the silver-scratched sink mirror.

The scare mask of Bad Mother
crumbles to chunked, pinched clay,
sinks in the silver-scratched mirror.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who

crumbles the clay chunks, pinches
her friend, givers her a sharp knife.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who
was any witch’s youngest daughter.

Our friend gives you a sharp knife,
shows how the useful blades open.
Was any witch’s youngest daughter
golden and bold as you? You run and

show how the useful blades open.
You are the baby on the mountain. I am
golden and bold as you. You run and
we pace each other for a long time.

[Untitled]

1986

 

You did say, need me less and I’ll want you more.

I’m still shellshocked at needing anyone,

used to being used to it on my own.

It won’t be me out on the tiles till four-

thirty, while you’re in bed, willing the door

open with your need. You wanted her then,

more. Because you need to, I woke alone

in what’s not yet our room, strewn, though, with your

guitar, shoes, notebook, socks, trousers enjambed

with mine. Half the world was sleeping it off

in every other bed under my roof.

I wish I had a roof over my bed

to pull down on my head when I feel damned

by wanting you so much it looks like need.

Cheryl Clarke  

living as a lesbian on 49’s final eve

40’s lasted much too long,

mercurial merchant of necessity.

You’ve spent a long time being young, and now must surrender it quietly, as you cross

over to that foxy stranger,

girlfriend.’

(I won’t celebrate her

for finding me,

forcing me to kiss her elegant feet, tawdry wench,

flashing and flagging me down whenever.)

She calls to me.

Runs to me.

I stop the car.

Tear off my clothes in the middle of the road.

Lose my shoes in the glass-studded grasses

nothing

1982

 

Nothing I wouldn’t do for the woman I sleep with

when nobody satisfy me the way she do.

 

kiss her in public places

win the lottery

take her in the ass

in a train lavatory

sleep three in a single bed

have a baby

to keep her wanting me.

 

wear leather underwear

remember my dreams

make plans and schemes

go down on her in front of her

other lover

give my jewelry away

to keep her wanting me.

 

sell my car

tie her to the bed post and

spank her

lie to my mother

let her watch me fuck my other lover

miss my only sister’s wedding

to keep her wanting me.

 

buy her cocaine

show her the pleasure in danger

bargain

let her dress me in colorful costumes

of low cleavage and slit to the crotch

giving easy access

to keep her wanting me.

 

Nothing I wouldn’t do for the woman I sleep with

when nobody satisfy me the way she do.

Renée Vivien

The Touch (translated by Margaret Porter and Catherine Kroger)

1901-1909

 

The trees have kept some lingering sun in their branches,

Veiled like a woman, evoking another time,

The twilight passes, weeping. My fingers climb,

Trembling, provocative, the line of your haunches.

My ingenious fingers wait when they have found

The petal flesh beneath the robe they part.

How curious, complex, the touch, this subtle art–

As the dream of fragrance, the miracle of sound.

I follow slowly the graceful contours of your hips,

The curves of your shoulders, your neck, your upappeased breasts.

In your white voluptuousness my desire rests,

Swooning, refusing itself the kisses of your lips.

Willyce Kim

In This Heat

1972

 

In this heat

we gather ourselves

and hold together

day folding into night

we press for darkness

as if the heat

would steal away

like some errant ship,

vanquished by the moon

and stars,

we close our eyes

the night half-swollen

with the whispers of the day.

Out, across the way

a dog barks.

Tonight I hold your

hands between my palms.

Afraid of yesterday.

Uncertain of tomorrow.

Outside the moon pales

against the window

as shadow laps across

the sky.

Sleep flutters

like burning incense.

We curl into darkness

and are gone.

Mary Oliver

The Journey

1992

 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations, though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

but little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Judy Grahn

Vera, from my childhood

 

Solemnly swearing, to swear as an oath to you

who have somehow gotten to be a pale old woman;

swearing, as if an oath could be wrapped around

your shoulders

like a new coat;

For your 28 dollars a week and the bastard boss

you never let yourself hate;

and the work, all the work you did at home

where you never got paid;

For your mouth that got thinner and thinner

until it disappeared as if you had choked on it,

watching the hard liquor break your fine husband down

into a dead joke.

For the strange mole, like a third eye

right in the middle of your forehead;

for your religion which insisted that people

are beautiful golden birds and must be preserved;

for your persistent nerve

and plain white talk–

the common woman is as common

as good bread

as common as when you couldnt go on

but did.

For all the world we didnt know we held in common

all along

the common is as common as the best of bread

and will rise

and will become strong–I swear it to you

I swear it to you on my own head

I swear it to you on my common

woman’s

head

Bejan Matur

Women

Translated by Suat Karantay

2007

 

With their blue tattoos

And bruises from endless mournings

They stand still looking at the fire

They all shiver when the wind blows

Their breasts bend to the earth

 

Carrying burning wood in their hands

Old as black rusty cauldrons

Women continue their wandering

When the fire bursts in a rage

Voices multiply

The fire burns incessantly there

Extinguishing it is such a hassle

 

Women with shrunken breasts

Are thinking of the hardness of the wood

They’ll hold in their uncommonly slender hands

And keep silent

It is hard to guess their age when they are silent

They smell of the earth when they cry out

 

Unable to recollect where to direct their glances

They let their eyes rest upon the earth

As clouds are not permanent in the sky

They relinquish themselves to the earth

Cordially

And occasionally exude a fragrance

Carolyn Kizer

Pro Femina, 1960s (first 3 sections)-2000

 

ONE

From Sappho to myself, consider the fate of women.

How unwomanly to discuss it! Like a noose or an albatross necktie

The clinical sobriquet hangs us: codpiece coveters.

Never mind these epithets; I myself have collected some honeys.

Juvenal set us apart in denouncing our vices

Which had grown, in part, from having been set apart:

Women abused their spouses, cuckolded them, even plotted

To poison them. Sensing, behind the violence of his manner—

“Think I’m crazy or drunk?”—his emotional stake in us,

As we forgive Strindberg and Nietzsche, we forgive all those

Who cannot forget us. We are hyenas. Yes, we admit it.

While men have politely debated free will, we have howled for it,

Howl still, pacing the centuries, tragedy heroines.

Some who sat quietly in the corner with their embroidery

Were Defarges, stabbing the wool with the names of their ancient

Oppressors, who ruled by the divine right of the male—

I’m impatient of interruptions! I’m aware there were millions

Of mutes for every Saint Joan or sainted Jane Austen,

Who, vague-eyed and acquiescent, worshiped God as a man.

I’m not concerned with those cabbageheads, not truly feminine

But neutered by labor. I mean real women, like you and like me.

Freed in fact, not in custom, lifted from furrow and scullery,

Not obliged, now, to be the pot for the annual chicken,

Have we begun to arrive in time? With our well-known

Respect for life because it hurts so much to come out with it;

Disdainful of “sovereignty,” “national honor;” and other abstractions;

We can say, like the ancient Chinese to successive waves of invaders,

“Relax, and let us absorb you. You can learn temperance

In a more temperate climate.” Give us just a few decades

Of grace, to encourage the fine art of acquiescence

And we might save the race. Meanwhile, observe our creative chaos,

Flux, efflorescence—whatever you care to call it!

TWO

I take as my theme “The Independent Woman,”

Independent but maimed: observe the exigent neckties

Choking violet writers; the sad slacks of stipple-faced matrons;

Indigo intellectuals, crop-haired and callus-toed,

Cute spectacles, chewed cuticles, aced out by full-time beauties

In the race for a male. Retreating to drabness, bad manners,

And sleeping with manuscripts. Forgive our transgressions

Of old gallantries as we hitch in chairs, light our own cigarettes,

Not expecting your care, having forfeited it by trying to get even.

But we need dependency, cosseting, and well-treatment.

So do men sometimes. Why don’t they admit it?

We will be cows for a while, because babies howl for us,

Be kittens or bitches, who want to eat grass now and then

For the sake of our health. But the role of pastoral heroine

Is not permanent, Jack. We want to get back to the meeting.

Knitting booties and brows, tartars or termagants, ancient

Fertility symbols, chained to our cycle, released

Only in part by devices of hygiene and personal daintiness,

Strapped into our girdles, held down, yet uplifted by man’s

Ingenious constructions, holding coiffures in a breeze,

Hobbled and swathed in whimsy, tripping on feminine

Shoes with fool heels, losing our lipsticks, you, me,

In ephemeral stockings, clutching our handbags and packages.

Our masks, always in peril of smearing or cracking,

In need of continuous check in the mirror or silverware,

Keep us in thrall to ourselves, concerned with our surfaces.

Look at man’s uniform drabness, his impersonal envelope!

Over chicken wrists or meek shoulders, a formal, hard-fibered assurance.

The drape of the male is designed to achieve self-forgetfulness.

So, Sister, forget yourself a few times and see where it gets you:

Up the creek, alone with your talent, sans everything else.

You can wait for the menopause, and catch up on your reading.

So primp, preen, prink, pluck, and prize your flesh,

All posturings! All ravishment! All sensibility!

Meanwhile, have you used your mind today?

What pomegranate raised you from the dead,

Springing, full-grown, from your own head, Athena?

THREE

I will speak about women of letters, for I’m in the racket.

Our biggest successes to date? Old maids to a woman.

And our saddest conspicuous failures? The married spinsters

On loan to the husbands they treated like surrogate fathers.

Think of that crew of self-pitiers, not-very-distant,

Who carried the torch for themselves and got first-degree burns.

Or the sad sonneteers, toast-and-teasdales we loved at thirteen;

Middle-aged virgins seducing the puerile anthologists

Through lust-of-the-mind; barbiturate-drenched Camilles

With continuous periods, murmuring softly on sofas

When poetry wasn’t a craft but a sickly effluvium,

The air thick with incense, musk, and emotional blackmail.

I suppose they reacted from an earlier womanly modesty

When too many girls were scabs to their stricken sisterhood,

Impugning our sex to stay in good with the men,

Commencing their insecure bluster. How they must have swaggered

When women themselves endorsed their own inferiority!

Vestals, vassals, and vessels, rolled into several,

They took notes in rolling syllabics, in careful journals,

Aiming to please a posterity that despises them.

But we’ll always have traitors who swear that a woman surrenders

Her Supreme Function, by equating Art with aggression

And failure with Femininity. Still, it’s just as unfair

To equate Art with Femininity, like a prettily packaged commodity

When we are the custodians of the world’s best-kept secret:

Merely the private lives of one-half of humanity.

But even with masculine dominance, we mares and mistresses

Produced some sleek saboteuses, making their cracks

Which the porridge-brained males of the day were too thick to perceive,

Mistaking young hornets for perfectly harmless bumblebees.

Being thought innocuous rouses some women to frenzy;

They try to be ugly by aping the ways of men

And succeed. Swearing, sucking cigars and scorching the bedspread,

Slopping straight shots, eyes blotted, vanity-blown

In the expectation of glory: she writes like a man!

This drives other women mad in a mist of chiffon.

(One poetess draped her gauze over red flannels, a practical feminist.)

But we’re emerging from all that, more or less,

Except for some ladylike laggards and Quarterly priestesses

Who flog men for fun, and kick women to maim competition.

Now, if we struggle abnormally, we may almost seem normal;

If we submerge our self-pity in disciplined industry;

If we stand up and be hated, and swear not to sleep with editors;

If we regard ourselves formally, respecting our true limitations

Without making an unseemly show of trying to unfreeze our assets;

Keeping our heads and our pride while remaining unmarried;

And if wedded, kill guilt in its tracks when we stack up the dishes

And defect to the typewriter. And if mothers, believe in the luck of our children,

Whom we forbid to devour us, whom we shall not devour,

And the luck of our husbands and lovers, who keep free women.

Selima Hill

Cow

2008

 

I want to be a cow

and not my mother’s daughter.

I want to be a cow

and not in love with you.

I want to feel free to feel calm.

I want to be a cow who never knows

the kind of love you ‘fall in love with’ with;

a queenly cow, with hips as big and sound

as a department store,

a cow the farmer milks on bended knee,

who when she dies will feel dawn

bending over her like lawn to wet her lips.

 

I want to be a cow,

nothing fancy –

a cargo of grass,

a hammock of soupy milk

whose floating and rocking and dribbling’s undisturbed

by the echo of hooves to the city;

of crunching boots;

of suspicious-looking trailers parked on verges;

of unscrupulous restaurant-owners

who stumble, pink-eyed, from stale beds

into a world of lobsters and warm telephones;

of streamlined Japanese freighters

ironing the night,

heavy with sweet desire like bowls of jam.

 

The Tibetans have 85 words for states of consciousness.

This dozy cow I want to be has none.

She doesn’t speak.

She doesn’t do housework or worry about her appearance.

She doesn’t roam.

Safe in her fleet

of shorn-white-bowl-like friends,

she needs, and loves, and’s loved by,

only this –

the farm I want to be a cow on too.

 

Don’t come looking for me.

Don’t come walking out into the bright sunlight

looking for me,

black in your gloves and stockings and sleeves

and large hat.

Don’t call the tractorman.

Don’t call the neighbours.

Don’t make a special fruit-cake for when I come home:

I’m not coming home.

I’m going to be a cowman’s counted cow.

I’m going to be a cow

and you won’t know me.

Anne Sexton

Her Kind

1960

 

I have gone out, a possessed witch,

haunting the black air, braver at night;

dreaming evil, I have done my hitch

over the plain houses, light by light:

lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.

I have been her kind.

 

I have found the warm caves in the woods,

filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,

closets, silks, innumerable goods;

fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:

whining, rearranging the disaligned.

A woman like that is misunderstood.

I have been her kind.

 

I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.

Adrienne Rich

Cartographies of Silence 

1971

A conversation begins

with a lie. And each

 

speaker of the so-called common language feels

the ice-floe split, the drift apart

 

as if powerless, as if up against

a force of nature

 

A poem can begin

with a lie. And be torn up.

 

A conversation has other laws

recharges itself with its own

 

false energy. Cannot be torn

up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.

 

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus

the isolation it denies.

 

The classical music station

playing hour upon hour in the apartment

 

the picking up and picking up

and again picking up the telephone

 

the syllables uttering

the old script over and over

 

The loneliness of the liar

living in the formal network of the lie

 

twisting the dials to drown the terror

beneath the unsaid word

 

The technology of science

The rituals, the etiquette

 

the blurring of terms

silence not absence

 

of words or music or even

raw sounds

 

Silence can be a plan

rigorously executed

 

the blueprint to a life

 

It is a presence

it has a history a form

 

Do not confuse it

with any kind of absence

 

How calm, how inoffensive these words

begin to seem to me

 

though begun in grief and anger

Can I break through this film of the abstract

 

without wounding myself or you

there is enough pain here

 

This is why the classical or the jazz music station plays?

to give a ground of meaning to our pain?

 

The silence that strips bare:

In Dreyer’s Passion of Joan

 

Falconetti’s face, hair shorn, a great geography

mutely surveyed by the camera

 

If there were a poetry where this could happen

not as blank spaces or as words

 

stretched like skin over meanings

but as silence falls at the end

 

of a night through which two people

have talked till dawn

 

The scream

of an illegitimate voice

 

It has ceased to hear itself, therefore

it asks itself

 

How do I exist?

 

This was the silence I wanted to break in you

I had questions but you would not answer

 

I had answers but you could not use them

This is useless to you and perhaps to others

 

It was an old theme even for me:

Language cannot do everything–

 

chalk it on the walls where the dead poets

lie in their mausoleums

 

If at the will of the poet the poem

could turn into a thing

 

a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head

alight with dew

 

It if could simply look you in the face

with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn

 

till you, and I who long to make this thing,

were finally clarified together in its stare

 

No. Let me have this dust,

these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words

 

moving with ferocious accuracy

like the blind child’s fingers

 

or the newborn infant’s mouth

violent with hunger

 

No one can give me, I have long ago

taken this method

 

whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack

or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue

 

If from time to time I envy

the pure annunciations to the eye

 

the visio beatifica

if from time to time I long to turn

 

like the Eleusinian hierophant

holding up a simple ear of grain

 

for the return to the concrete and everlasting world

what in fact I keep choosing

 

are these words, these whispers, these conversations

from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green

Eileen Myles

An American Poem

1991

I was born in Boston in

1949. I never wanted

this fact to be known, in

fact I’ve spent the better

half of my adult life

trying to sweep my early

years under the carpet

and have a life that

was clearly just mine

and independent of

the historic fate of

my family. Can you

imagine what it was

like to be one of them,

to be built like them,

to talk like them

to have the benefits

of being born into such

a wealthy and powerful

American family. I went

to the best schools,

had all kinds of tutors

and trainers, traveled

widely, met the famous,

the controversial, and

the not-so-admirable

and I knew from

a very early age that

if there were ever any

possibility of escaping

the collective fate of this famous

Boston family I would

take that route and

I have. I hopped

on an Amtrak to New

York in the early

‘70s and I guess

you could say

my hidden years

began. I thought

Well I’ll be a poet.

What could be more

foolish and obscure.

I became a lesbian.

Every woman in my

family looks like

a dyke but it’s really

stepping off the flag

when you become one.

While holding this ignominious

pose I have seen and

I have learned and

I am beginning to think

there is no escaping

history. A woman I

am currently having

an affair with said

you know you look

like a Kennedy. I felt

the blood rising in my

cheeks. People have

always laughed at

my Boston accent

confusing “large” for

“lodge,” “party”

for “potty.” But

when this unsuspecting

woman invoked for

the first time my

family name

I knew the jig

was up. Yes, I am,

I am a Kennedy.

My attempts to remain

obscure have not served

me well. Starting as

a humble poet I

quickly climbed to the

top of my profession

assuming a position of

leadership and honor.

It is right that a

woman should call

me out now. Yes,

I am a Kennedy.

And I await

your orders.

You are the New Americans.

The homeless are wandering

the streets of our nation’s

greatest city. Homeless

men with AIDS are among

them. Is that right?

That there are no homes

for the homeless, that

there is no free medical

help for these men. And women.

That they get the message

—as they are dying—

that this is not their home?

And how are your

teeth today? Can

you afford to fix them?

How high is your rent?

If art is the highest

and most honest form

of communication of

our times and the young

artist is no longer able

to move here to speak

to her time…Yes, I could,

but that was 15 years ago

and remember—as I must

I am a Kennedy.

Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?

This nation’s greatest city

is home of the business-

man and home of the

rich artist. People with

beautiful teeth who are not

on the streets. What shall

we do about this dilemma?

Listen, I have been educated.

I have learned about Western

Civilization. Do you know

what the message of Western

Civilization is? I am alone.

Am I alone tonight?

I don’t think so. Am I

the only one with bleeding gums

tonight. Am I the only

homosexual in this room

tonight. Am I the only

one whose friends have

died, are dying now.

And my art can’t

be supported until it is

gigantic, bigger than

everyone else’s, confirming

the audience’s feeling that they are

alone. That they alone

are good, deserved

to buy the tickets

to see this Art.

Are working,

are healthy, should

survive, and are

normal. Are you

normal tonight? Everyone

here, are we all normal.

It is not normal for

me to be a Kennedy.

But I am no longer

ashamed, no longer

alone. I am not

alone tonight because

we are all Kennedys.

And I am your President.

Nellie Wong

Ode to Rice Crust Soup

2012

 

The jingoism dressed in fatigues

our boys and girls fighting

over there, in Afghanistan,

for our sanctity of life,

for democracy, that old goat

who used to point his fingers

at you and off we’d go

into the wild blue yonder

killing people who looked like

some of us in Vietnam,

in Grenada, in Korea, whatever land

our government warrants

needs defending ’cause

Whoa! Democracy’s cool.

Sujata Bhatt

 What Happened to the Elephant?

1997

 

What happened to the elephant
the one whose head Shiva stole
to bring his son Ganesh
back to life?

This is child’s curiosity,
The rosy imagination
that continues
probing, looking for a way
to believe the fantasy
a way to prolong the story.

If Ganesh could still be Ganesh
With an elephant’s head,
Then couldn’t the body of that elephant
find another life
with a horse’s head-for example?

And if we found
a horse’s head to revive
the elephant’s body-
who is the true elephant?
And what shall we do about the horse’s body?

Still the child refuses
to accept Shiva’s carelessness
and searches for a solution
without death.

But now when I gaze
at the framed postcard
of Ganesh on my wall,
I also picture a rotting carcass
of a beheaded elephant
lying crumpled up
on its side, covered with bird shit,
vulture shit-

Oh, that elephant

whose head survived
for Ganesh,
he dies, of course, but the others
in his heard, the hundreds
in his family must have found him.
They stared at him for hours
with their slow swaying sadness…
How they turned and turned
in a circle, with their trunks
facing outwards and then inwards
toward the headless one.

This is a dance,
a group dance
no one talks about.

Pat Parker

 1973

 

“How do we know that the panthers

will accept a gift from

white — middle — class — women?”

Have you ever tried to hide?

In a group

of women

hide

yourself

slide between the floor boards

slide yourself away child

away from this room

& your sister

before she notices

your Black self &

her white mind

slide your eyes

down

away from the other Blacks

afraid — a meeting of eyes

& pain would travel between you –

change like milk to buttermilk

a silent rage.

SISTER! your foot’s smaller,

but it’s still on my neck.

WHERE WILL YOU BE?

(1978)

Boots are being polished

Trumperters clean their horns

Chains and locks forged

The crusade has begun.

Once again flags of Christ

are unfurled in the dawn

and cries of soul saviors

sing apocalyptic on air waves.

Citizens, good citizens all

parade into voting booths

and in self-righteous sanctity

X away our right to life.

I do not believe as some

that the vote is an end,

I fear even more

It is just a beginning.

So I must make assessment

Look to you and ask:

Where will you be when they come?

They will not come

a mob rolling

through the streets,

but quickly and quietly

move into our homes

and remove the evil,

the queerness,

the faggotry,

the perverseness

from their midst.

They will not come

clothed in brown,

and swastikas, or

bearing chest heavy with

gleaming crosses.

The time and need

for ruses are over.

They will come

in business suits

to buy your homes

and bring bodies to

fill your jobs.

They will come in robes

to rehabilitate

and white coats

to subjugate

and where will you be

when they come?

Where will we all be

when they come?

And they will come —

they will come

because we are

defined as opposite –

perverse

and we are perverse.

Every time we watched

a queer hassled in the

streets and said nothing –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we lied about

the boyfriend or girlfriend

at coffee break –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we heard,

“I don’t mind gays

but why must they

be blatant?” and said nothing –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we let a lesbian mother

lose her child and did not fill

the courtroom –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we let straights

make out in our bars while

we couldn’t touch because

of laws –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we put on the proper

clothes to go to a family

wedding and left our lovers

at home –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we heard

“Who I go to bed with

is my personal choice –

It’s personal not political”

and said nothing –

It was an act of perversion.

Everytime we let straight relatives

bury our dead and push our

lovers away –

It was an act of perversion.

And they will come.

They will come for

the perverts

& it won’t matter

if you’re

homosexual, not a faggot

lesbian, not a dyke

gay, not queer

It won’t matter

if you

own your business

have a good job

or are on S.S.I.

It won’t matter

if you’re

Black

Chicano

Native American

Asian

or White

It won’t matter

if you’re from

New York

or Los Angeles

Galveston

or Sioux Falls

It won’t matter

if you’re

Butch, or Fem

Not into roles

Monogamous

Non Monogamous

It won’t matter

if you’re

Catholic

Baptist

Atheist

Jewish

or M.C.C.

They will come

They will come

to the cities

and to the land

to your front rooms

and in your closets.

They will come for

the perverts

and where will

you be

When they come?

Gwendolyn Brooks

Riot

1969

 

A riot is the language of the unheard.

—martin luther king

 

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,

all whitebluerose below his golden hair,

wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;

almost forgot Grandtully (which is The

Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost

forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray

and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,

the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

 

Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

 

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty

(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)

and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.

In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.

And not detainable. And not discreet.

 

Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot

itched instantly beneath the nourished white

that told his story of glory to the World.

“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered

to any handy angel in the sky.

But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove

and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath

the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,

malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old

averted doubt jerked forward decently,

cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,

and the desperate die expensively today.”

 

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire

and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!

Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”

May Ayim

no more rotten gray – for a colorful republic

1990

for Tina, Gülsen, Yara and Nita

talk – talk – show for the blah – blah – struggle

 

on special occasions

and for special events

but especially

shortly before

and shortly after elections

we’re in demand again

we’re taken notice of again

we’re suddenly addressed

we’re finally included

we suddenly seem indispensable

we are even

flown over

on your invitation of course

as the “dear alien citizens”

naturally without civil rights

as migrants

from the countries of the world

as experts in matters of racism

as the ones “afflicted”

 

together with activists and politicians

celebrities and the socially committed

we discuss analyze debate

about

demands protest actions appeals

in discussions hearings talk-shows

on a panel in a forum or plenum

 

and then – what next

the demands

are neatly

listed

the lists

are neatly

filed

and surely

and reliably

forwarded

to the right places

with the truly

responsible people

and then – what next

the show is over

we all go home

the socially committed feel relieved – partly

the afflicted feel they’ve been taken for a ride – totally

the “dear alien citizens”

still without civil rights of course

once again turn into the “spics”, “pakis” or “chinks” from next

door

the black or however

hyphenated germans

change back into the “Negroes”

from really far away

once again we are those

the whitewashers of history

already over-looked yesterday

or dis-covered

described defined instructed

in broken g / er / man

on the street

or in highly abstract studies

in a v-e-r-y s-c-i-e-n-t-i-f-ic language

we are patiently told over and over

which way to go

why

INTEGRATION

is written in capitals

why and how

we are oppressed

why and how and when

we must liberate ourselves

why and how and when and where and most important

that doesn’t take many words

nor lots of space

no

not really

the leftist alternative daily paper – so-called

for example only needs about two pages for international news

compared to about seven pages for german-german affairs

the so-called yellow press

quote: “germany in liberty that is our mission”

does it even quicker

shorter

more to the point

more capturing

the

north-south-monologue

that doesn’t take many words

no, not really

that’s why they hardly ever ask us

there’s no space anyway

whereas we’re still indispensable of course

at least on special occasions

or for special events

but certainly

shortly before the next elections

they will remember us again

we’ll definitely have to be a part of it

we’ll be allowed to proclaim our distress

must in fact do so

should in fact

put our demands into words

and really blast the trumpet

or at least sing a song

no more rotten gray – for a colorful republic

but

the “dear alien citizens”

although or because

still without civil rights

dress up for their own celebrations

and also the black

or however hyphenated germans

no longer come because they’ve been invited

but only

when they want to

they’re gradually getting cheeky

bad luck

luckily!

Etel Adnan

To Be In A Time Of War (2003)

[…]

To notice that mirrors shine during the night and that the mail is waiting to be answered. To worry about the war being waged so far away, so secretly. To already think of the next war. To hammer one’s anguish on oneself. To bring about a bird’s world in one’s imagination. To gaze at the Hudson River through one’s eyelashes. To spit pollution. To drive through a green light. To avoid an accident. To become an object. To become the object that that object protects. To hang on nothing. To live with no desires.
To try to be distracted by poetry, by trees. To see the trees grow, in a hurry. To appear and disappear. To take refuge from bestial conquest in false shelters. To chase the refugee, to flush him out of his new refuge. To lodge a bullet in the head and the back of a Palestinian. To add Iraqis to the butchery. To paint big canvases with blood then take a night train, then a plane. To disembark in Paris. To pick up the telephone, dial a number for Beirut. To hear the friend say that a Palestinian newsman has been cold bloodedly shot by some earnest monotheist. To wonder on the necessity of God. To brush the problem aside. To think of Cassandra. To remember the Hammurabi Code. To sink in fat. To look at the narrow and long road which leads the world to the slaughter-house.

Nelly Sachs

Landscape Of Screams

translated by Catterel and Catherine Sommer

1966

 

That is the planetary hour of the refugees.

That is the headlong flight of the refugees

into the falling sickness, into death!

That is the starfall magically caught

on the threshold, the hearth, the bread.

That is the black apple of knowledge,

fear!

The sun of love extinguished and

still smoking!

That is the flower of haste,

dripping with sweat!

Those are the hunters

from the void, made only of flight.

Those are the hunted, carrying their deadly hiding places

into their graves.

That is the sand, startled

with garlands of goodbye.

That is the earth’s venture into the open,

its breath caught

in air’s humility.

Nandini Sahu

Bridge in Making

2012

 

I am an Indian poet in English!

How long shall I wear this elegant

garland? Can I even put it down?

 

Poetry in English is like a passion for empire building.

It’s the subaltern speaking

the words pleading to be universally, intently heard.

 

I guess what I write is no English.

Still it’s a negotiable alternative

to breathing, to the art of living.

 

It’s the aroma to keep my spirits buoyant.

It’s a reconciliation, a bridge-in-making,

between the privileged and the marginalized.

 

Oh Muses! Teach me how to break down

this boundary – poets and Indian English poets–erected

since ages, between the periphery and the centre.

 

Make my poetry as delicious as

watered-rice-brinjal-fry and

dry-fish. To look the world in the eye.

 

I write in English to free my words

lying imprisoned in the arms of the heart.

Be it Orissan or Indian, but it’s out of this earth and wind.

 

I am the drunkard and I am the glass

of beer. I have committed no sin

which you haven’t ; I share your fate.

 

Odia is to think ,feel, dream and

be my funeral pyre. English, to me,

is my garland and my sword, my sole refuge.

 

It’s the voice of my longings and belongings.

honest as the west wind and the yearly floods in

coastal Indian villages, it’s the frozen marrow in my bones.

 

But it gives me a name, my very own.

It comes to me without tireless waiting.

It torrents with the haste of the Yamuna in July rain.

 

Language is like raindrops shaped into a pearl.

It’s like happy-healthy sprouted beans ; like red wine

from Goa; like silken embroidery on my outfit.

 

It kick-starts the day with the mercury boiled,

it clears all barriers between the

heart and the home and hearth.

 

The alphabets of the English I use, with their

jingling anklets, flood my world with joy.

Poetry falls down in droplets, the stars melt away.

 

I am Indian, Odia by birth, with

wheatish brown skin, dark eyes. I am just a

poet – English or no English– my taverns filled with Muses.

Audre Lorde

Who Said It Was Simple

There are so many roots to the tree of anger

that sometimes the branches shatter

before they bear.

 

Sitting in Nedicks

the women rally before they march

discussing the problematic girls

they hire to make them free.

An almost white counterman passes

a waiting brother to serve them first

and the ladies neither notice nor reject

the slighter pleasures of their slavery.

But I who am bound by my mirror

as well as my bed

see causes in colour

as well as sex

 

and sit here wondering

which me will survive

all these liberations.

A poem by Cameron (from genderqueerpoetry.tumblr.com), 2013

 

I try to be myself, as they always said

But I am shackled to this giveway chest and high-pitched breath

I am imprisoned by my body

Restricted to picking one- boy or girl

When I really am both

And the one I would pick is the one the world decides I am not

Hello, miss, can I help you

Miss, you dropped this

Miss, this is the men’s clothes

Miss, miss, miss, they all missed who I am

The onslaught of girl, girl, girl

Imprisons the man inside me

And the man inside me

Squashes the girl that still tries to show her face

That still wants to wear makeup and jewelry

And be called her own name

And the one time they almost got it right

Is the one time she’s in full bloom

Sir-

My name is Elena

Oh, sorry, miss.

I lied.

My name is Cameron.

Are you a boy or a-

I am.

Joy Ladin

North and South

2009

 

Don’t underestimate your need

to cross the line. Frozen

on the wrong side of your desire

 

to remake the world

inverted in the mirror

of your otherness,

 

how can you be true

to the truth of being human,

something that bends

 

in a universe that doesn’t, a messy blend

of guts and spirit, responsibility and shame?

You are only an inch

 

from the constantly moving

source of life, no matter how passionately

you crush yourself

 

into the boxes – male or female, north or south, poor or rich, white

or some other social shade – you check

because you are scared

 

to cross the lines that keep you safe

from more complicated combinations

of love and loneliness,

 

rocking your soul to sleep

while you stuff your body

into too-tight boxes, knowing no one will mind

 

you don’t have the guts to live

as long as you stay

on your side of the line.

June Jordan

Poem about My Rights

1980

 

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear

my head about this poem about why I can’t

go out without changing my clothes my shoes

my body posture my gender identity my age

my status as a woman alone in the evening/

alone on the streets/alone not being the point/

the point being that I can’t do what I want

to do with my own body because I am the wrong

sex the wrong age the wrong skin and

suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/

or far into the woods and I wanted to go

there by myself thinking about God/or thinking

about children or thinking about the world/all of it

disclosed by the stars and the silence:

I could not go and I could not think and I could not

stay there

alone

as I need to be

alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own

body and

who in the hell set things up

like this

and in France they say if the guy penetrates

but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me

and if after stabbing him if after screams if

after begging the bastard and if even after smashing

a hammer to his head if even after that if he

and his buddies fuck me after that

then I consented and there was

no rape because finally you understand finally

they fucked me over because I was wrong I was

wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong

to be who I am

which is exactly like South Africa

penetrating into Namibia penetrating into

Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if

Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the

proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland

and if

after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe

and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to

self-immolation of the villages and if after that

we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they

claim my consent:

Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of

the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what

in the hell is everybody being reasonable about

and according to the Times this week

back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem

and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they

killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba

and before that it was my father on the campus

of my Ivy League school and my father afraid

to walk into the cafeteria because he said he

was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong

gender identity and he was paying my tuition and

before that

it was my father saying I was wrong saying that

I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a

boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and

that I should have had straighter hair and that

I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should

just be one/a boy and before that

it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for

my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me

to let the books loose to let them loose in other

words

I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.

and the problems of South Africa and the problems

of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white

America in general and the problems of the teachers

and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social

workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very

familiar with the problems because the problems

turn out to be

me

I am the history of rape

I am the history of the rejection of who I am

I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of

myself

I am the history of battery assault and limitless

armies against whatever I want to do with my mind

and my body and my soul and

whether it’s about walking out at night

or whether it’s about the love that I feel or

whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or

the sanctity of my national boundaries

or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity

of each and every desire

that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic

and indisputably single and singular heart

I have been raped

be-

cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age

the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the

wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic

the wrong sartorial I

I have been the meaning of rape

I have been the problem everyone seeks to

eliminate by forced

penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/

but let this be unmistakable this poem

is not consent I do not consent

to my mother to my father to the teachers to

the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy

to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon

idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in

cars

I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name

My name is my own my own my own

and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this

but I can tell you that from now on my resistance

my simple and daily and nightly self-determination

may very well cost you your life

Maya Angelou

On the Pulse of Morning 

1993

 

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

 

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

 

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

 

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness,

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

 

Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.

 

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

 

Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song,

Come rest here by my side.

 

Each of you a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

 

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

 

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

 

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the stone were one.

 

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

 

The River sings and sings on.

 

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

 

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.

 

Today, the first and last of every Tree

Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

 

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

 

Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveller, has been paid for.

 

You, who gave me my first name, you

Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of

Other seekers- desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

 

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought

Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare

Praying for a dream.

 

Here, root yourselves beside me.

 

I am the Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

 

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

 

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

 

History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

 

Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

 

Give birth again

To the dream.

 

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands.

 

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings.

 

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

 

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

 

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

 

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

 

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

Merle Woo

 Jelly Beans

2003

 

The harmony of a million languages —

Colors never before seen;

People with

Cultures so many so rich always changing

Each with a sense of place

Not ownership.

And also,

We began to see people

Becoming tangible and real,

Becoming their potential.

A thousand-fold of gender expressions —

A wild flourishing of sexualities —

The nuclear family unit had

Disappeared,

Because everyone had everything

Collectively

Males and females were equal

Children were no longer

Blue and pink incipient workers.

It didn’t matter anymore if you

Were mannish or womanish —

Why, you could be

Two spirits, three spirits, four —

Fluid, changing by choice

Or desire,

Merging

Interpenetration of sexualities —

And genders —

For some

Clearly male and female for others —

So many expressions

And speakings out

We no longer laughed at

But admired

The chick who kept her dick —

The tomboy who grew up to be a man,

The tomboy who grew up to be a lesbian,

The tomboy who grew up to be a woman —

The girlboygirl who is still changing

The girl man who is trying to find

The boy he had lost.

We decided that gender expressions

Like racial expressions

Were like jelly beans —

One alone is pretty enough

But one among many

Multi-flavored, multi-colored

Jelly beans

Is

Ecstasy!

Lisa Robertson

[It was Jessica Grim the American Poet…]

2001

 

It was Jessica Grim the American poet

who first advised me to read Violette Leduc.

Lurid conditions are facts. This is no different

from the daily protests and cashbars.

I now unknowingly speed towards

which of all acts, words, conditions —

I am troubled that I do not know.

When I feel depressed in broad daylight

depressed by the disappearance of names, the pollen

smearing the windowsill, I picture

the bending pages of La Bâtarde

and I think of wind. The outspread world is

comparable to a large theatre

or to rending paper, and the noise it makes when it flaps

is riotous. Clothes swish through the air, rubbing

my ears. Promptly I am quenched. I’m talking

about a cheap paperback which fans and

slips to the floor with a shush. Skirt stretched

taut between new knees, head turned back, I

hold down a branch,

Violette Leduc

Excerpt from Thérèse and Isabelle

Translated by Derek Coltman

1967

 

I wandered away from the others over toward the lavatories. I went in. An odor halfway between the chemical smell of a candy factory and that of school disinfectant still hung inside the little cubicle. But my loathing for these exhalations from the general disinfecting process that always sapped our energies on the first evening back at school had left me. The odor was a backdrop awaiting our meeting. The shrieks of the younger girls receded behind me. A vapor rose from the pale, much-scrubbed wood of the seat: the vapor of tenderness given off by a mass of flaxen hair. I leaned over the bowl. The sleeping water gave me back a reflection of my face before the creation of the world. I fingered the handle, its chain, then took away my hand. The chain swung to and fro beside the melancholy water. Someone called to me. I didn’t dare put on the hook and shut myself in.

“Open it,” the voice begged.

Someone was rattling the doors.

I could see the eye. It was blocking the heart-shaped air-hole cut in the lavatory door.

“My love.”

Isabelle was there from the land of meteors, of avalanches, of wrecks, of plunder. She had thrown me a word of liberation, a program; she was bringing me the invigorating breath of the North Sea. I had the strength to remain silent, even as I swelled with pride.

She was waiting for me, but that did not guarantee security. The word she had used was too strong. We looked at one another, we were paralyzed.

I threw myself into her arms.

Her lips were trying to find Thérèses in my hair, in my neck, in the folds of my pinafore, between my fingers, along my shoulder. Why couldn’t I reproduce myself a thousand times and offer her a thousand Thérèses… I was nothing but myself, and that was not enough. I wasn’t a forest. A blade of grass in my hair, a piece of confetti in the folds of my pinafore, a ladybug between my fingers, a piece of fluff on my neck, a scar on my cheek would have given me more body. Why wasn’t I the weeping locks of a willow tree beneath her hand as it stroked my hair?

I made a frame for her face: “My love.”

Maureen N. McLane

Best Laid

2013

 

it’s clear

the wind

won’t let up

and a swim’s out —

what you planned

is scotched.

forget the calls,

errands at the mall —

yr resolve’s

superfluous

as a clitoris.

how miraculous

the gratuitous —

spandrels,

on a sea

of necessity

let’s float

wholly

unnecessary

& call

that free

Ferron

Girl on a Road, from the album “Driver” 

1994

My momma was a waitress, my daddy a truckdriver. The thing that kept their power from them slowed me down awhile. I remember the morning that was the closing of my youth, when I said goodbye to no one and in that way faced my truth…and a walk along the river… and a rain a’coming down…and a girl on a road.

There’s a rhythm to a highway to match the rhythm of your fears. My shopping bag possessions scattered with my splattered tears. A string of nights in truck stops and in darkness and in lies and a man they all called Tigerboy…he just had to show me why. He just had to give me something I’d forever understand…as a girl on a road.

Rain upon the water makes footprints sunk in sand. Anger upon angry hurt, take me by the hand. Take me by the heartstrings and pull me deep inside and say I’m one with your forgiveness and separate from my pride.

I don’t know what it’s like for you but here’s what it’s like for me… I wanted to turn beautiful and serve Eternity and never follow money or love with greasy hands, or move the earth and waters just to make it fit my plans. My eyes would be the harbor, my words the perfect place for a girl on a road.

I met you in the Summer, I left you in the Fall. In between we did some living…I like to think that’s all…but now I see words can be like weapons no matter that they’re small, and I used three tiny words on you and then beat it down the hall. Does this road go on forever? Does this terror know no end…for a girl on a road? Would you like to sing it with me?

Rain upon the water makes footprints sunk in sand. Anger upon angry hurt, take me by the hand. Take me by the heartstrings and pull me deep inside and say I’m one with your forgiveness and separate from my pride.

You cannot measure what it takes to mend a withered heart. They’ll tell you at the onset everybody does their part. I did my best to follow the calling of my soul. But, it’s like that first guitar I played…at the center is a hole, at the center is a…longing… that I cannot understand as a girl on a road.

But if music be a boulder, let me carry it a long while. Let it turn into a feather, let it brush against my smile. Let the life be somewhat settled with the life that song has made. Let there be nothing I am longing for in some plan I may have made, in some story quickly written during a long forgotten time as a girl on a road. Sing it with me…

Rain upon the water makes footprints sunk in sand. Anger upon angry hurt, take me by the hand. Take me by the heartstrings and pull me deep inside and say I’m one with your forgiveness and separate from my pride.

Audre Lorde

Making Love To Concrete

An upright abutment in the mouth

of the Willis Avenue bridge

a beige Honda leaps the divider

like a steel gazelle inescapable

sleek leather boots on the pavement

rat-a-tat-tat best intentions

going down for the third time

stuck in the particular

 

You cannot make love to concrete

if you care about being

non-essential wrong or worn thin

if you fear ever becoming

diamonds or lard

you cannot make love to concrete

if you cannot pretend

concrete needs your loving

 

To make love to concrete

you need an indelible feather

white dresses before you are ten

a confirmation lace veil milk-large bones

and air raid drills in your nightmares

no stars till you go to the country

and one summer when you are twelve

Con Edison pulls the plug

on the street-corner moons Walpurgisnacht

and there are sudden new lights in the sky

stone chips that forget you need

to become a light rope a hammer

a repeatable bridge

garden-fresh broccoli two dozen dropped eggs

and a hint of you

caught up between my fingers

the lesson of a wooden beam

propped up on barrels

across a mined terrain

 

between forgiving too easily

and never giving at all.

Maureen Seaton

Snow

1991

 

White people leave the express

at 96th Street, collectively,

like pigeons from a live wire

or hope from the hearts of Harlem.

And I’m one of them, although

my lover sleeps two stops north between

Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell

Boulevards, wishing my ass

were cupped inside her knees and belly,

wishing this in a dream thick

with inequalities.

I live on Riverside Drive. My face

helped get me here. I was

ruddy with anticipation the day

I interviewed for the rooms

near the park with its

snow-covered maples. I was full

of undisguised hope as I

strolled along the river, believing

I belonged there, that my people

inherited this wonderland

unequivocally, as if they deserved it.

My lover buys twinkies from the Arabs,

bootleg tapes on ‘25th,

and carries a blade in her back

pocket although her hands

are the gentlest I’ve known.

She ignores the piss smells

on the corner, the sirens

at 4 A.M., the men whose brains

have dissolved in rum. And tries

to trust a white woman who

sleeps near the trees of Riverside.

When we go out together,

we avoid expensive

cafés on Columbus Avenue, jaunts

to the Upper East Side. Harlem

eyes us suspiciously or with

contempt beneath half-closed lids.

We have friends there,

hidden in the ruins like gold, who

accept us. When it snows,

we walk boldly anywhere, as if the snow

were a protection, or a death.

Olga Broumas

RUMPLESTILTSKIN

1977

 

First night.

Mid-winter.

Frightened

with pleasure as I came.

Into your arms, salt

crusting the aureoles.

Our white breasts. Tears

and tears. You

saying

I don’t know

if I’m hurting or loving

you. I

didn’t either.

We went on

trusting. Your will to care

for me intense

as a laser. Slowly

my body’s cellblocks

yielding

beneath its beam.

 

i have to write of these things. We were grown

women, well

traveled in our time.

 

 Did anyone

ever encourage you, you ask

me, casual

in afternoon light. You blaze

fierce with protective anger as I shake

my head, puzzled, remembering, no

no. You blaze

 

a beauty you won’t claim. To name

yourself beautiful makes you as vulnerable

as feeling

pleasure and claiming it

makes me. I call you lovely. Over

 

and over, cradling

your ugly memories as they burst

their banks, tears and tears, I call

you lovely. Your face

will come to trust that judgment, to bask

in its own clarity like sun. Grown women. Turning

 

heliotropes to our own, to our lovers’ eyes.

 

 Laughter. New in my lungs still, awkward

on my face. Fingernails

growing back

over decades of scar and habit, bottles

of bitter quinine rubbed into them, and chewed

on just the same. We are not the same. Two

women, laughing

in the streets, loose-limbed

with other women. Such things are dangerous.

Nine

 

millions have burned for less.

How to describe

what we didn’t know

exists: a mutant organ, its function to feel

intensely, to heal by immersion, a fluid

element, crucial

as amnion, sweet milk

in the suckling months.

 

The words we need are extinct.

 

Or if not extinct

badly damaged: the proud Columbia

stubbing

her bound up feet on her dammed

up bed. Helpless with excrement. Daily

 

by accident, against

what has become our will through years

of deprivation, we spawn the fluid

that cradles us, grown

as we are, and at a loss

for words. Against all currents, upstream

we spawn

in each other’s blood.

 

 Tongues

sleepwalking in caves. Pink shells. Sturdy

diggers. Archeologists of the right

the speechless zones

of the brain.

 

Awake, we lie

if we try to use them, to salvage some part

of the loamy dig. It’s like

forgiving each other, you said

borrowing from your childhood priest.

Sister, to wipe clean

 

with a musty cloth

what is clean already

is not forgiveness, the clumsy housework

of a bachelor god. We both know, well

in our prime, which is cleaner: the cave-

dwelling womb, or the colonized

midwife:

 

the tongue.

Dawn Lundy Martin

Violent Rooms

2007

 

1.

The contours of the girl blur. She is both becoming and fact.

A rancor defines the split. Rip into. Flatten the depth of voice. That

urgent flex peels off the steady layers. A girl, I say.

Girl. Gu-erl. Quell. He. He—unbuttons before emergence.

As in yard rake pressed to roof of mouth. A fragrant rod.

Suh—sssuh—ssuck. Insistence. Lips go lisp. Our brutish boy.

Having not ever been whole. Or simple. Or young. Just split and open.

Not of it. For it. Born a cog of hard wheel at five, six, seven . . .

What to know of what has never been?

2.

No common place would do: bar stool, front porch, sea rock.

Such a room should crawl into the soul. Stretch it. Contort it.

Could be the straddle of this stranger at the neck. I am this.

She does not waver. She is twenty-five. The bed is wet. As many

as had done this thing before. The wound is rupture. Blood-faced.

Between sailing and anchor. No, between shipwreck and burial.

What does the mouth do? It does not mean no, saying no.

It does not mean yes. It gurgles. It swells. It is comfort.

A quick kick. Mighty, mighty.

June Jordan

Poem for Haruko

2005

 

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain

or happiness

like candles lighting the entire soft lace

of the air

around the full length of your hair/a shower

organized by God

in brown and auburn

undulations luminous like particles

of flame

But now I do

retrieve an afternoon of apricots

and water interspersed with cigarettes

and sand and rocks

we walked across:

How easily you held

my hand

beside the low tide

of the world

Now I do

relive an evening of retreat

a bridge I left behind

where all the solid heat

of lust and tender trembling

lay as cruel and as kind

as passion spins its infinite

tergiversations in between the bitter

and the sweet

Alone and longing for you

now I do

Megan Falley

K

2014

 

In the summer, girls paid her

in cigarettes and hickeys

to shave their heads

on her front porch.

I sat behind her in poetry class

and when she wrote the naked lady

tattooed on her arm writhed.

I tried to name the shade of her hair —

so black it was blue.

She loved Bukowski. Hated herself

in the most beautiful ways — pierced

five or six holes in her face.

One day in class she stole my phone,

punched her number in and saved her name — “k”.

She owned 1/26 of the alphabet.

I read her messages over and over.

They were the first poems.

They were cave paintings.

They were my own palms.

The only time she ever called was 3AM.

I WANT TO KISS YOU RIGHT NOW said her whiskey.

Don’t worry, that’s just something

she tells new friends said her roommate, sober,

snatching the phone.

The world had never given me

the language to say Come close or Yes or I don’t know

how to touch you, let me touch you—so I danced

with a boy that night. He was tall, I think.

I slept beside him, not touching, forgot

his name. But I remembered her hair,

bruise colored. How the dye left a spot

behind her ear. How it ruined nothing

but me.

The Day Amanda Realized She Was A Lesbian

2014

 

she pulled me into the laundry room,

mascara spilling down her graduation dress.

Her High School sweetheart — a lover

of Pearl Jam, hockey and monogamy — clueless

on the other side of the door.

I asked why she waited until graduation

to become a lesbian when we spent the past four years

at a liberal arts college known for its Kombucha and girls

braiding each other’s armpit hair on the Ultimate Frisbee Quad.

We’d done everything together: dyed our hair the same

shade of Manic Panic. Guarded the door for each other while touching

strange men in bar bathrooms. Told the same tequila secrets

to the same plastic wastebaskets. Shared a twin bed.

We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry — but I held her

the way I always held her.

How could we not have known?

I slid down the snowy hill on a dining hall lunch tray

only after she braved it. She chewed the mushroom stem

only after I swallowed mine.

We unlocked each other

like middle school diaries,

and so I called the girl

whose green eyes followed me across campus

for seven semesters and say Take me

somewhere

and in the garden, she kissed me

so soft, I grew

a new eyelash.

Karen Brodine

 They Outlawed Touch

1990

 

They outlawed touch between those of the same body,

no twins, no sisters, no friends, no neighbors

an oddity, the way I wash my hair, the way

I bare my teeth?

get used to that word, perverse

you might as well get used

to spit in your face

and know pacific as an ocean

just some innocent ocean

get used to flaunting

your fists

reach across wall, ice, lock, myth

across lies we don’t exist

while a candidate swears on a Bible he’s no queer

I never knew what I was till I knew my name.

Dyke.

Lesbiana, the young girls jeer

and I know there must be one among them

swinging her skirts brashly

hearing her own name,

seeing herself

in me,

and I have loud names for this,

burnt kiss, singe

risk, pride

stronger tendon

tender

grin

fist hand human natural animal hand.

Drawing the Line1990
1.Firing Line
Notice of Proposed Removal ActionLoyalty Board
Post Office Department, Washington D.C.In the Matter of the Loyalty of Harriet M. PierceSeattle, Washington Loyalty Case Number 6
Executive Order 9835, March 21, 1948established a Federal Employees Loyalty Programto see that disloyal civilian officers or employeesare not retained.
As the result of a recent investigationmade of you as an employee of the Post Office
information has been receivedwhich indicates you have beenand that you are

affiliated or sympathetic with
an organization, association, movement, group

or combination of persons

designated as subversive
and on the basis of this evidence

grounds exist

for belief

that you are disloyal

to the Government of the United States

2. Holding the Line
We have lists

of those who stepped

across that line

to join us.

A piece of paper.

A simple list

of our party,

movement,

association,

group,

and combination of persons.

The names are the names

of those who stepped

across that line

to join us.

We stand in lines that stretch beyond

the law.

We march and are arrested.

We do not let the right wing

break our lines.

We say we have the right

to freedom of speech

to freedom of silence.

We say what we know

to be truth for the record.

We refuse to name names.

Subversive we shove back.

Loyal, we hold in trust

each name given.

It is that difficult

and that simple.

Beth Brant

Her Name is Helen

1988

 

When she was laid off from the factory she got a job in a bar,

serving up shots and beer.

Instead of tips, she gets presents from her customers.

Little wooden statues of Indians in headdress.

Naked pictures of squaws with braided hair.

Feather roach clips in fuschia and chartreuse.

Everybody loves Helen…

She’s had lots of girlfriends.

White women who wanted to take care of her,

who liked Indians,

who think she’s a tragedy…

Her girlfriends took care of her.

Told her what to say

how to act more like an Indian.

You should be proud of your Indian heritage.

Wear more jewelry.

Go to the Indian Center.

Jean Smith

Boom Boom Boom

 

Oh ya and weirdly

the last song I wrote —

off the top of my head on Wednesday

is about a Vietnamese woman about my age

who swims over to me in the hot pool

to tell me a bunch of things — I get this quite a lot

people tell me things

 

She’s telling me about being a small child

walking through the jungle for a long time

there are dead people everywhere

and “boom-boom-boom”

she makes her arms straight

like guns on planes pointing down

her face a fierce frown

 

She doesn’t say the word war

she calls it “boom boom boom”

they are leaving because of

“boom boom boom”

it’s like she’s back into child-thought

 

I get the impression some people

don’t want to listen

and the more she senses

that I am listening

the more she has to say

 

She looks at my arms

saying I am so strong and she is too skinny

and I can tell she wants to touch me

looking for a place to just touch me

as she tells me about

walking in the jungle with seven brothers and sisters

she holds up nine fingers when she says seven

and she tells me it’s great

that I understand her English

because other people say

they can’t

 

I say, “Your English is fine — they don’t want to listen.”

And it seems like a relief

that someone says this

and she tells me that she’s been here all these years

and never gone back

never wanted to go back

until she got word that her father was going to die

 

I ask if she’d been one of the Boat People

that came to Canada and I make a gesture

with two fingers skimming the surface of the hot pool

and say, “Boat People” and she get its

and I feel like I’ve just invented

the universal gesture for Boat People

— weird little thought —

 

She applied for a passport and they

phoned her at home

and asked her too many questions

and she’d started to cry

she makes the universal gesture for crying

two fingers down her cheek from the corner of her eye

 

They gave her the passport but her father died —

there wouldn’t have been enough time to get there

 

So she thinks she’ll take a trip to Seattle instead

I laugh and we we introduce ourselves by name

As I turn away to move through the water

I reach back to where her tiny hand is

floating in front of her

I take her hand for a second

while our eyes aren’t on each other

a separate connection is made

Cathy Linh Che

2014

The German word for dream is traume.

 

The coal-dust hushed

parameters of the room.

Outside, my mother stitched

whole dresses for $3.00 a piece.

I slept in a bedroom

which faced the street.

A cheerleader was killed

in a drive-by that year.

She died in her sleep.

I watched the headlights

sweep overhead.

*

It felt like skin.

It did not

feel obscene.

When that boy

tongue-kissed me

and wiped

his mouth,

it was a coming

into knowledge.

*

When my mother whispered,

Has anyone touched you there?

I had to pick.

Alan, I said.

I was seven.

The training wheels

were coming off.

Between the couch

and wall, the ceiling was white

with popcorn bits. The boys stood

and watched. I lay there,

my eyes open like a doll’s.

Someone said, Let me try.

He pulled down his pants

and rode on top. The boys laughed,

said shhh, and stood me up.

Suheir Hammad

4:02 p.m.

poem supposed to be about

one minute and the lives of three women in it

writing it and up

the block a woman killed

by her husband

poem now about one minute

and the lives of four women

in it

haitian mother

she walks through

town carrying her son’s

head—banging it against

her thigh calling out

creole come see, see what

they’ve done to my flesh

holds on to him grip tight

through hair wool

his head all that’s

left of her

in tunisia

she folds pay up into stocking

washes his european semen

off her head

hands her heart to god

and this month’s rent to mother

sings berber the gold

haired one favored me, rode

and ripped my flesh, i now

have food to eat

brooklyn lover

stumbles—streets ragged under sneakers

she carries her heart

banged up against

thighs crying ghetto

look, look what’s been done with

my flesh, my trust, humanity,

somebody tell me

something good

Isabella Matambanadzo

Black Granite 

2010

That year, her grades dropped. It wasn’t a gentle decline. She went 
from always being one of the three top performers across all her
 subjects to hedging with failure. Because she didn’t loose her 
unbending cheer, or fall off her sports teams, the teachers misread 
her. Report cards would go home with the words “bad set of friends”
scrawled all over them, or “teenage tantrums” in the case of teachers 
who thought they should have had a prestigious career in the world of
Psychology, rather than rub chalk off their fingers with damp cloths 
at the end of a 45 minute class period.

Not wanting to worsen her situation or call attention to the real
 reasons for her disruption, she kept quiet. Her mother would badger 
her about the;

“49 % in mathematics”

“50% in physics”

“48% in biology”,

finger running over the rows and columns filled with teacher’s script.  Later, when she learnt how to use a computer, she
wondered at why there was no font called “Teacher”. Some geek had made 
a big mistake there: Cartoon, Times New Roman, but no Teacher….
Strange for sure.

“I am doing my very best Ma”, was her thoughtful, respectful reply.
“O’ Levels are so much tougher than the junior certificate”. She
didn’t want to further fray any already torn nerves. Her mother had
that distracted way about her today. A storm was already gathering in
the corners of her eyes. If pressed, there would be an unbearable gush
of salty blobs of sadness and rage.

Her parents were fighting. Not the verbal assaults she heard Sue-Ellen 
and J.R. hurl at each over the radio versions of Dallas and Dynasty.
Their television set had long been sold off to pay debts that had been 
raised by a truant uncle. Ever the faithful head of the family, they
 had been underwritten with the surety of her father’s name.  Her
 mother was fury itself. She had bought their first colour TV with her 
own pay cheque. Money saved in the cup of her bra, with the elastic on
 the left strap drawn tight to ensure the special loot didn’t slither.
 How could that lout of a mean ass brother-in-law do this to her and 
the kids? But the laws of the land did not allow women to own property
 so it had been purchased in her father’s name. And now the Collector
 of Debts had stood in the family home as if presiding over an auction.
Clipboard in hand and hip thrust out in a posture of false efficiency,
he had taken her TV set.

It was an outright brawl. Blows and blood. Her school friends talked
 openly about their parents’ fights. They spoke of well-educated
 fathers having affairs with old flames that had returned home from
 England in the aftermath of independence deft on reclaiming their
 rightful place as his original love, his true soul mate.  Men who had
 been sent to school by wives who took any job, every job that would
 pay, and in the process sacrificed their own career dreams. She never
 said a word.

That was what freedom meant. Smokey voices coming over the telephone
 line at home asking “is your father in?” “ In you maybe”, was the
 answer she wanted to give. But she had been raised polite, so she said
 with diplomacy. “I am very sorry, no. May I take your name and number
 and ask him to ring you back please?”.
“Umm-haa,” the voice exhaled, suppressing a mist of tobacco soot. The
 telephone would click dead but she’d stay on the line, reached for the
 message pad and pen nodding into nothingness. “ You are welcome”, she
 said to the dumb drone in her ear. Anything less would have flared her 
watchful mother to respond. It was pointless really, to add fuel to an
 already blazing fire.

Her world had become a private war zone, punctuated by the gruff
 staccato of a dress ripping as roughness grabbed the sleeve in combat.
From the battlefield, she would retrieve and stitch back together
 amputated clothes.  No matter how hard she scrubbed, she could never
 quite get the spotting out of the chipped butter cup yellow tiles in
 the kitchen walls. When they had bought the family home in the suburbs
 newly opened to blacks at independence in the multiracial
 neighbourhoods the granite topped counters were a major selling point
for the agent. “Quick sale this, owners are packed and want to leave
 the country. It has gone to the dogs, hey. They are off to Australia,”
the sales agent rattled on in a raspy English that reminded her of the
 sound of a knife slicing lemons for the gin and tonics.

Over the years, the granite had cracked. The smack of the butt of the 
axe had left a birthmark. She had ducked its wood cutting blow but the 
bottle of cooking oil she held in her hand, between left thumb and
 forefinger, had shattered her sure footedness. Her head hit the razor
sharp corner of the counter, and twisted her into a fall. The coroner,
a spindly specimen of a man, who wore tortoise shelled glasses that 
were flanked by thick, grey eyebrows, said, in a dry, unemotional
 tone, “it wasn’t the head injury that killed her, or the glass that
had pierced clean through her lung, to the top tip of her heart. The 
most important muscle in her body had somehow calcified into a mass of
 stone”. Only then did his brows move, perplexed by this impossible
 puzzle of biology. He was itching to write a case-study. But the
 family needed the body for the funeral.

Looking at the weather beaten tombstone over her mother’s grave. She
 wanted, today, as she did everyday, to edit the ridiculous poetry of
 the epitaph etched in curly, even letters.

R.I.P, Beloved
 Sister,

Wife, 
Mother, friend,

To “you should have left him and lived”.

Nellie Wong

Mama, come back

1986

 

Mama, come back.
Why did you leave
now that I am learning you?
The landlady next door
how she apologizes
for my rough brown skin
to her tenant from Hong Kong
as if I were her daughter,
as if she were you.

How do I say I miss you
your scolding
your presence
your roast loin of pork
more succulent, more tender
than any hotel chef’s?

The fur coat you wanted
making you look like a polar bear
and the mink-trimmed coat
I once surprised you
on Christmas morning.

Mama, how you said “importment”
for important,
your gold tooth flashing
an insecurity you dared not bare,
wanting recognition
simply as eating noodles
and riding in a motor car
to the supermarket
the movie theater
adorned in your gold and jade
as if all your jewelry
confirmed your identity
a Chinese woman in America.

How you said “you better”
always your last words
glazed through your dark eyes
following me fast as you could
one November evening in New York City
how I thought “Hello, Dolly!”
showed you an America
you never saw.

How your fear of being alone
kept me dutiful in body
resentful in mind.
How my fear of being single
kept me
from moving out.

How I begged your forgiveness
after that one big fight
how I wasn’t wrong
but needed you to love me
as warmly as you hugged strangers.

Cheryl Conway

 BUT YOU LOOK SO GOOD

2008

 

Oh but you look so good, I heard them say.

Is that me you’re talking to? I thank them for the compliment, wishing I felt that way.

I wonder what that phrase is really suppose to mean?

I’m no Marilyn Monroe and certainly no beauty queen.

I’ll admit I’ve done fairly well, quite the actress I’ve become.

I try not to discuss my excruciating cranial nerves, or my legs that are often numb.

My family has witnessed the days in which I can hardly bear. Days when fatigue is so consuming,

I don’t bother to fix my hair. I’ll make it to the shower, a technique to hide the pain,

you can’t hear me crying and my tears are swallowed by the drain.

Days when I can’t budge and I feel frozen in one place. Of course, these are the days you won’t see my face.

I suspect when you see me out in public, I project a certain glow.

My good days are seldom now, but I’m truly sick you know?

I don’t know how to describe the symptoms of a disease still so misunderstood.

But, I still don’t mind hearing, “Oh, but you look so good.”

Renee Gladman

Proportion Surviving

2000  

Long before the fresh apple crisis, my life had some form to it. I would wake in the mornings—I would perform something. For example, the day I tried, as one with acute passion might, to win one woman over but accidentally won another—that whole time I had been living like someone. Though I can’t remember his name. His model of optimism provided me with a certain geography that I inhabit in time of need. This time the need was surprising. People tend to have faith that the juice they drink in the morning is the same juice they have always drunk. And apples take their shape naturally. The guy, whose name escapes me now, taught me to look upon others’ concerns as mine to make at home. I was fond of doing many things at home, but my favorite was drinking juice. When my friends came by—they liked to suddenly show up with all kinds of breads in their hands, thinking they knew what I needed and planning to force it on me—I had to tell them I was busy with my juice. Two weeks before the crisis, I had been writing some poems about it. It was a warm day, not entirely different from other warm days in San Francisco. People were on the street. Pale people were on the street, making it to the park and lying there such that the next day they were a little browned. The poems I had written were failures, but dense ones. It seemed appropriate to think the person’s attempt at wholeness was a series of missteps, which if drawn across an afternoon might prove interesting to other people. I had a way of reminding my friends that we were all in pain, but a fruit tart kind of pain strangers can’t help but enjoy. That day I had, in a sense, gathered all my possessions and gone out onto the street with them. I awoke that morning with an urgency to prepare myself for something—not anything life threatening, but definitely personal.

My lover, then, wanted to spend much of her life asleep. She had no ostensible reaction to the city’s sudden depletion of all its fresh apples and no hope for them. In a world where a person’s tastes revolve around the kind of sleep she gets, I could not find four people who cared. I thought that if I could find those four people we could really do something. A few of my friends pretended they were chosen. A few neighbors felt bad and made offers. My mother called to console me. My lover—in actuality, the closest person to being a member of the encumbered troop, slept next to me. Sleep became our network: falling in and out of it for change. The rule of survival is that no two people can lie in the same bed and sleep at the same time. So I kept an eye on her and played this game of freshness. If by morning I could quickly run out and do seven things that did not involve longing, she would reward me. Before the crisis, the reward would have needed only to be an apple one. But after the apples were gone. The landscape usually contains the solution to what’s lost. Demographics help people in cars. Some people did not notice me. Some demographers lose sleep and do not notice me. That was two days before. The evening before it was two days before the crisis, I was thinking that I did not think I was asleep. I had been watching the sunlight take the corner of my room and my housemate’s cat in it. When I looked again, there was no light—but I had not been asleep. It’s the way people react to traumatic events. They say, “I had just been there” or will say, “She was just with me.” So the loss of light was emotional and the lost state—demographic. I began to trace things by their disappearance. Alone in the room, my memory, and anticipated darkness going for light. People like to talk about the daytime. People in strange moods often miss the daytime. Before the crisis it was not often that one would find me in strange moods. I had managed a particular kind of balance fortified by a certain satisfaction of taste. I was happy. I mean, I was in my juice.

Five weeks before the crisis, I was employed at the natural foods grocery around the corner from my house. I did not really work there, but I went there every week. All but the third Sunday of each month, I would walk in and find all kinds of juice on sale. Not to buy, but to stand next to. Shorter people have the privilege of proximity to most cardboard signs. That was one thing. I would stand there and be something for taller people who couldn’t see. I had gotten into the habit of improvised customer service as a way to peruse the juice aisles without being noticed. My parents thought my talents should have led me somewhere. My father would always say, “If you’re not going to be a people person, then numbers will have to do.” He was surprised that with all the time I had on my hands, I chose to spend most of it alone. Numbers then did hold some mystery for me, but mostly too high and far-reaching to explore. For years I had known that if there was a wall between where I was and where I needed to be, I did not want it there. Some people have personal goals that are demanding. Certain goals make it impossible to lounge around in bed. My decision to drink only fresh juice, which costs as much as a small satisfying breakfast, kept me busy rounding up cash. I would have to leave most friendships behind. As a way of keeping my life “wall-free,” I had to divide my time. I would spend the first part of the day searching for volunteer positions in organic juice factories. The second part of my day I would spend telling people about the first part. The other parts are not of substance here.

Twenty-five years before the crisis I had for the first time what would eventually become known to me as apple juice. Twenty-three years later a magazine editor would reject my first attempt to recount that experience in litany. I am always drinking in my poems, a good friend says.

In the first years of my life, everything I ate was mush. Today I will tolerate only the toughest of green vegetables and date people who will always forget this. When I had that remarkable glass of apple juice, I had no idea that one day I simply would not be able to find it. The city gets rid of its apples. People find themselves inventing fruit. The day I decided to write poems about it—it was twelve days before the rumors began and fourteen days before the media coverage—I had been resting in my best friend’s easy chair. We were discussing the rise of the smoothie industry when something fantastic occurred to me. Five days later I had twenty poems. When a person writes a poem about her passions, people on the street are bound to notice them. The passions overwhelm the body. She carries the body as though it were the book. The friend whose easy chair gave way to my failures moved out of town the next week, and though I miss her it was the failures that saved me. On every other day any kind of crisis one finds particular sayings helpful. If certain words are spoken quietly into a cup of hot water, with the handle of the cup turned toward the wall, whatever strength found in the person may be mirrored in the wall. The person leaves the house with her hand against this wall but strutting slightly.

In the alley behind the natural foods grocery, I met my second lover for the first time. Meeting people in vulnerable places accentuates the passion later. Or it may be so hot that the lover never thinks in the present. And the weather was so hot during the crisis. Only the alleys had shade. Forty-eight days into the crisis, while on a thirst strike, I had to make a run for the alley. Not as though people were after me, but the elements. The foundation of anyone feeling that they must get away is need; at the bottom of any body-based need is grace. When I appeared at the opening of the alley, a woman who not twenty-four hours later would be dozing in my bed was stacking crates against the east-side wall. Women who work against surfaces inspire me to do things—I thought about telling her, or—short women make me want things. All the time while I was growing up I put a lot of demands on my juice; forty-eight days into the crisis she made me forget it. I did not forget it, but was embroiled. The newspapers were saying things about the past. People were celebrating thick juice, and I kept writing those poems. That day in the alley I realized three things about life. While assisting her I learned three things to carry around with me, to disperse when needed. For six months during the crisis, I did not care about the crisis.

When my faith returned all my lovers were gone. That morning I woke to the two hundred and thirty-second day of the crisis; I was beneath my bed. It was the sixth day that I had awakened beneath my bed. I was lonely, but I was also sure. Life without juice had taken on the name and shape of my weakest character, who—when we passed on the street—did not know me. I knew it was me by the way my head felt: people find themselves in an idea and feel so specified by the idea that they are compelled to show it. Today all my ideas are liquid. That day of my faith, friends thinking I was sick came by to see me. It would be the last day I spent alone; I was happy, but still would not drink. The juice on my mind was no longer juice. There was an absence there, but one so constant it became familiar. I did not want to drink it.

Marilyn Chin

The Survivor

1994

 

Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl.

Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger.

Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep.

Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says

“danger!”

All the tempests will render still; seas will calm,

horses will retreat, voices to surrender.

That you have this way and not that,

that your skin is yellow, not white, not black,

that you were born not a boychild but a girl,

that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well.

Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or

most clever;

merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest.

And you shall have to relinguish that title

before long.

Nicole Brossard

From Shadow Soft et Soif, translated by Guy Bennett

90s

hold on in silence

at dawn the verb to be courses

in the veins, a heavenly body, it flies

as after love or grain of salt

on the tongue early morning, taste of immensity

it draws near

the first dampness

come kiss me

think of the great power of water

that makes a place of us

 

and if torment if what quickens

your nights of reading and irreality

si la poussière vivre sur tes doigts

lean back on shadow

in a place with blue and emptiness

there will surely be water in your eyes

modernity and fear in your clothes

 

Muriel Rukeyser

The Conjugation of the Paramecium

1968

This has nothing

to do with

propagating

The
species

is continued

as so many are

(among
the smaller creatures)

by fission

(and this species

is very small

next in order to

the amoeba, the beginning one)

The paramecium

achieves, then,

immortality

by dividing

But when

the paramecium

desires renewal

strength another joy

this is what

the paramecium does:

The paramecium

lies down beside

another paramecium

Slowly inexplicably

the exchange

takes place

in which

some bits

of the nucleus of each

are exchanged

for some bits

of the nucleus

of the other

This is called

the conjugation of the paramecium.

Gertrude Stein

Love Song of Alice B.

1921

 

I caught sight of a splendid Misses. She had handkerchiefs and kisses.

She had eyes and yellow shoes she had everything to choose and she chose me.

In passing through France she wore a Chinese hat and so did I.

In looking at the sun she read a map. And so did I.

In eating fish and pork she just grew fat. And so did I.

In loving a blue sea she had a pain. And so did I.

In loving me she of necessity thought first. And so did I.

How prettily we swim. Not in water. Not on land. But in love.

How often do we need trees and hills. Not often.

And how often do we need birds. Not often.

And how often do we need wishes. Not often.

And how often do we need glasses not often.

We drink wine and we make well we have not made it yet.

How often do we need a kiss. Very often and we add when tenderness overwhelms us we speedily eat veal.

And what else, ham and a little pork and raw artichokes and ripe olives and chester cheese and cakes and caramels and all the melon. We still have a great deal of it left. I wonder where it is. Conserved melon. Let me offer it to you.

Marge Piercy

What Are Big Girls Made Of?

1997

 

The construction of a woman:

a woman is not made of flesh

of bone and sinew

belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.

She is manufactured like a sports sedan.

She is retooled, refitted and redesigned

every decade.

Cecile had been seduction itself in college.

She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,

her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed

in the dark red lipstick of desire.

 

She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts

tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,

while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,

lipstick pale as apricot milk,

hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,

I thought in my superiority of the moment,

whatever has happened to poor Cecile?

She was out of fashion, out of the game,

disqualified, disdained, dis-

membered from the club of desire.

 

Look at pictures in French fashion

magazines of the 18th century:

century of the ultimate lady

fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.

Paniers bring her hips out three feet

each way, while the waist is pinched

and the belly flattened under wood.

The breasts are stuffed up and out

offered like apples in a bowl.

The tiny foot is encased in a slipper

never meant for walking.

On top is a grandiose headache:

hair like a museum piece, daily

ornamented with ribbons, vases,

grottoes, mountains, frigates in full

sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy

of a hairdresser turned loose.

The hats were rococo wedding cakes

that would dim the Las Vegas strip.

Here is a woman forced into shape

rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:

a woman made of pain.

 

How superior we are now: see the modern woman

thin as a blade of scissors.

She runs on a treadmill every morning,

fits herself into machines of weights

and pulleys to heave and grunt,

an image in her mind she can never

approximate, a body of rosy

glass that never wrinkles,

never grows, never fades. She

sits at the table closing her eyes to food

hungry, always hungry:

a woman made of pain.

 

A cat or dog approaches another,

they sniff noses. They sniff asses.

They bristle or lick. They fall

in love as often as we do,

as passionately. But they fall

in love or lust with furry flesh,

not hoop skirts or push up bras

rib removal or liposuction.

It is not for male or female dogs

that poodles are clipped

to topiary hedges.

 

If only we could like each other raw.

If only we could love ourselves

like healthy babies burbling in our arms.

If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed

to need what is sold us.

Why should we want to live inside ads?

Why should we want to scourge our softness

to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?

Why should we punish each other with scorn

as if to have a large ass

were worse than being greedy or mean?

 

When will women not be compelled

to view their bodies as science projects,

gardens to be weeded,

dogs to be trained?

When will a woman cease

to be made of pain?

Grace Nichols

selection Ffrom Weeping Woman

(Dora Maar)

Pablo Picasso (1937), 2009

 

2

Even my hat mocks me

laughing

on the inside of my grief –

 

My twisted mouth

and gnashing teeth,

my fingers fat and clumsy

as if they were still wearing

those gloves –

the bloodstained ones you keep.

 

What has happened

to the pupils

of my eyes, Picasso?

 

Why do I deserve

such deformity?

 

What am I now

if not a cross between

a clown and a broken

piece of crockery?

 

3

But I am famous.

People recognise me

despite my fractures.

 

I’m no Mona Lisa

(how I’d like to wipe

the smugness from her face

that still captivates.)

 

Doesn’t she know that art, great art,

needn’t be an oil-painting?

 

I am a magnet

not devoid of beauty.

 

I am an icon

of twentieth-century grief.

 

A symbol

of compositional possibilities

 

My tears are tears of happiness –

big rolling diamonds.

 

14

Picasso, I want my face back

the unbroken photography of it

 

Once I lived to be stroked

by the fingers of your brushes

 

Now I see I was more an accomplice

to my own unrooting

 

Watching the pundits gaze

open-mouthed at your masterpieces

 

While I hovered like a battered muse

my private grief made public.

 

15

Dora, Theodora, be reasonable, if it weren’t for Picasso

you’d hardly be remembered at all.

He’s given you an unbelievable shelf-life.

Yes, but who will remember the fruits of my own life?

 

I am no moth flitting around his wick.

He might be a genius but he’s also a prick –

Medusa, Cleopatra, help me find my inner bitch,

wasn’t I christened Henriette Theodora Markovitch?

 

Picasso, I want my face back

the unbroken geography of it.

 

Aditi Rao

Not being a man, I bleed like this

I remember only the wet earth, after a flood or a pipe-burst, grey soil

growing red, its greedy drinking. I remember the stickiness of my soles.

Yesterday, a man boarded the subway, smelling of mountains and chalk-dust.

Five centuries ago, he did not understand his neighbors; they seemed to

want to give. Five centuries later, he thinks I want room in his bed.

Don’t you see the spiders crawling up my bones?

.                                                                           Mejor sola.

Cotton whirring into thread, clunking

into cloth – this is how I’ve spun for centuries. This

is how we drove the Brits out.  Thread by thread, look.

.                     I watch the tourist who wants to pity me, silver smiles

.                    barely hiding his fear of a fingerless palm. I know

.                     the power of dismemberment.

This back has carried wood, water, children, stories,

the shock of orange against pink, sounds

of roosters and broken bus-horns. In years

of wandering, it has never seen beige.

Why are you hiding from color?

I am not afraid of disfigured children

that are not mine. Therefore,

I may never give birth.

.                        (I forgot an arm in a village, a lip across the border,

.                        dropped an ear in an ocean. Forgot. Remembered.)

.              I will begin as I always have – again.

I remember a pebbled earth.

I delivered my first child with my socks on, so they wouldn’t see

my wounds. It was a hospital for healthy people.

Her voice grew loud inside her

stomach, exploded one day, shattered

the wall, took root with the banyan.

We have all tried rolling it back

into her throat. It has steadily refused.

.                          How will I live now? In her memory.

.                     One foot in the air, another in the soil

.                      where the graves are.     Dancing

.                          with the world between my legs.

.                      My songs tied into bundles, set adrift

.                      on rivers, like children nobody wants.

On the highway, sitting ghoda-taang on the motorcycle

behind the man I love – no one to notice. Closer

to the village, side-saddle. A woman you can trust

to educate your daughters. I will live in between.

Gloria Anzaldúa

“To live in the Borderlands means you”…

(1987)

 

are neither hispana india negra española  

ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed

caught in the crossfire between camps

while carrying all five races on your back

not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

 

To live in the Borderlands means knowing

that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,

is no longer speaking to you,

that mexicanas call you rajetas,

that denying the Anglo inside you

is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

 

Cuando vives in la frontera

people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,

you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,

forerunner of a new race,

half and half—both woman and man, neither—

a new gender;

 

To live in the Borderlands means to

put chile in the borscht,

eat whole wheat tortillas,

speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;

be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

 

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to

resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,

the pull of the gun barrel,

the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

 

In the Borderlands

you are the battleground

where enemies are kin to each other;

you are at home, a stranger,

the border disputes have been settled

the volley of shots have shattered the truce

you are wounded, lost in action

dead, fighting back;

 

To live in the Borderlands means

the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off

your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart

pound you pinch you roll you out

smelling like white bread but dead;

 

To survive the Borderlands

you must live sin fronteras

be a crossroads.

gabacha: a Chicano term for a white woman

rajetas: literally, “split,” that is, having betrayed your word

burra: donkey

buey: oxen

sin fronteras: without borders

Tishani Doshi

The River of Girls

2012

i.m. India’s missing girls

This is not really myth or secret.

This murmur in the mouth

of the mountain where the sound

of rain is born. This surging

past pilgrim town and village well.

This coin-thin vagina

and acid stain of bone.

This doctor with his rusty tools,

this street cleaner, this mother

laying down the bloody offerings

of birth. This is not the cry

of a beginning, or a river

buried in the bowels of the earth.

This is the sound of ten million girls

singing of a time in the universe

when they were born with tigers

breathing between their thighs;

when they set out for battle

with all three eyes on fire,

their golden breasts held high

like weapons to the sky.

Sina Queyras

Endless Inter-States

2009

 

1

They go down to the expressways, baskets

In hand, they go down with rakes, shovels

And watering cans, they go down to pick

Beans and trim tomato plants, they go down

In wide-brimmed hats and boots, passing

By the glass-pickers, the Geiger counters, those

Guarding the toxic wastes. They go down

Remembering the glide of automobiles, the

Swelter of children in back seats, pinching, twitching,

Sand in their bathing suits, two-fours of Molson’s

In the trunk of the car. They go down, past

The sifters, the tunnellers, those who transport

Soil from deep in the earth, and are content

To have the day before them, are content to imagine

Futures they will inhabit, beautiful futures

Filled with unimagined species, new varieties of

Plant life, sustainable abundance,

An idea of sufficient that is global. Or,

Because cars now move on rails underground,

The elevated roads are covered in earth,

Vines drape around belts of green, snake

Through cities, overgrown and teeming

With grackles and rats’ nests, a wall

Of our own devising, and the night

Watchmen with their machine guns

Keeping humans, the intoxicated,

Out. I am sorry for this version, offer

You coffee, hot while there is still

Coffee this far north, while there is still news

To wake up to, and seasons

Vaguely reminiscent of seasons.

2

Web-toed she walks into the land, fins

Carving out river bottoms, each hesitation

A lakebed, each mid-afternoon nap, a plateau,

Quaint, at least that is my dream of her,

Big shouldered, out there daydreaming

The world into existence, pleasuring herself

With lines and pauses. How else? What is a lake

But a pause? People circling it with structures, dipping

In their poles? Once she thought she could pass by

Harmless. Scraping wet shale, her knees down in it, she

Tries to remember earth, that ground cover. She tries

To reattach things, but why? What if the world

Is all action? What if thought isn’t glue, but tearing?

She sits at the lake edge where the water never meets

Earth, never touches, not really, is always pulling

Itself on to the next.

3

Now she sits by her memory of meadow, forlorn, shoeless.

She could scoop PCBs from the Hudson, she is

Always picking up after someone. But what? What

Is the primary trope of this romp? Where her uterus

Was the smell of buckshot and tar, an old man chasing

Her with a shotgun across his range. Cow pies and

Hornets’ nests, gangly boys shooting cats with BB guns,

Boys summering from Calgary, trees hollowed out,

Hiding all manner of contraband goods. When she peers

In the knotted oak, classic movies run on

The hour, Scout on the dark bark, Mildred

Pierce with a squirrel tale wrap. Nature is over,

She concludes. Nature is what is caught, cellular,

Celluloid. She sticks a thumb in another tree, a

Brownstone, a small girl—her heart a thing locked.

It’s been so long since she felt hopeful. (Perhaps nature

Is childhood.) The morning after Chernobyl

Out there with tiny umbrellas. All those internal

Combustions. This is a country that has accepted death

As an industry, it is not news. She has been warned.

Her ratings sag. She scans her least apocalyptic

Self and sees mariners floating, Ben

Franklin penning daily axioms, glasses lifting

From the river bank, planked skirts on Front,

China-like through the industrious, thinking, traffic

Clogged city, its brick heavy with desire for good.

Memory of meadow, Dickinson an ice pick scratching

Wings in her brain: if you see her standing, if you move

Too quickly, if you locate the centre, if you have other

Opportunities, by all means if you have other opportunities.

4

Abondoned mine shafts on either side, those

Tight curves between Kaslo and New Denver,

Hairpin at glacial creek, splash of red

Bellies muscling, streaming up, we see them

From the open window. Or once did. Even here?

Salmon stocks diminish, mammals dying off.

No, he said, not in your lifetime. Vertical;

Traces where the charge went off,

Ruggedness is your only defence, he

Said, be difficult to cultivate, navigate. Offer

No hint of paradise, no whiff of

Golf course. Uninhabitability your only

Recourse. Lashed, that moment, prolonged

Leaving, her father on the roadside

Dreaming his world fitting in some place,

Without being reigned in, her father’s fathers

Throwing rocks down on Hannibal,

Straddling the last large elm in the valley,

Knowing where and how to lay the charge, or

Sucking shrapnel from an open wound,

The lambs all around, bleating.

5

Which liftetime? Beyond what brawn? Who

Knew where the road would take us?

Neat, neat, the rows of apple trees

There in the valley, red summers, the heat

Of Quebecois pickers, VWs in a circle,

Firepit and strum. Men from Thetford

Mines dreaming peaches, dreaming

Clean soil. Hour upon hour the self

Becomes less aware of the self.

Beautiful, beautiful, the centre line, the road,

This power station and control tower, these

Weigh scales, these curves, that mountain

Goat, those cut lines, these rail lines, that

Canyon, the Fraser, the Thompson,

The old highways hyphenating

Sagebrush, dead-ending on chain

Link, old cars collecting like bugs

On the roadside, overturned, curled, astute,

Memory of the Overlanders,

Optimism, headlong into

Hell’s Gate. Churn of now,

The sound barriers, the steering

Wheel, the gas pedal, the gearshift,

The dice dangling, fuzzy,

Teal, dual ashtrays, AM radio

Tuned to CBC, no draft, six cylinders,

The gas tank, the gearshift, easing

Into the sweet spot behind

The semi, flying through Roger’s

Pass; the snowplow, the Park

Pass, sun on mud flap, the rest stop

Rock slides, glint of snow, the runaway

Lanes, the grades steep as skyscrapers,

The road cutting through cities,

Slicing towns, dividing parks,

The road over lakes, under rivers,

The road right through a redwood,

Driving on top of cities, all eyes

On the DVD screen,

All minds on the cellphone,

The safari not around, but inside

Us: that which fuels.

6

No matter, the slither of pavement is endless,

Today the rain, a gold standard, all the

Earmarks of, never mind, all is well, all

Is well, and who doesn’t want to hear that?

She gets on her scooter and roars, she gets

On her skateboard and feels the air under

Foot, she shakes out her hair, thinking of California,

Thinking of allergies, thinking of the wreck

Of place: who ever promised more? The iris

With its feigned restraint, the daring tuba,

The horn of shoe, utilitarian, delicate. Such

Useful domesticity, such hopeful electronics.

Once she disappeared by turning sideways.

Now she finds it difficult to reappear. She lifts

The sediment of time to her palm, feels it sift

Between her fingers: bone, bits of event. Aren’t

We all a bit fluish this century? Nothing bearing any

Mark of otherwise. No prescript, nothing a bit of hope

Won’t cure. Such a churn of optimism:

That which consecrates will not kill. Maybe New York?

She fits herself on an easterly course: been done,

Been done, but what better than the well-trodden

Path? Beautiful, beautiful, the seams

Of the rich, their folded linens,

Their soft bags of money. If it ain’t broke

Don’t fix, if it ain’t resistant, don’t

Wince, if it fits like a boot, then boot it.

And so she does.

Mitsuye Yamada

Neutralize!for Silvia, Alejandrina, and Susan1996. . . poetry . . .has been my spiritual guidethroughout my incarcerationin the darkest of timesI turn to Neruda and Hikmetand Rukeyser and Ritsas

and Chrytos

and Whitman. . .

(Excerpt from a letter by a U.S. Political Prisoner)

They mean to kill

the soul in me

Neutralize!

White white

no poetry in

white floors walls ceiling white

white chairs tables sink white

only when I close my eyes do I see

beyond the white windowless walls

springtime of lacy trees

green against baby blue.

There is silence silence more

silence

to drown out the silence

I fill my inner ear with robinsongs

human screeches and scrapes

sounds bouncing against the white walls?

Dead air in the cell

in my mind

the zest of lemon

and the sweetness of wildflowers.

Willfully bland diet aimed

to erase use of my tongue

Add a pinch of salt with the taste

of sweat or even of blood

anywhere on my body

the taste of cheese.

One human touch

my own arms enfold me

my fingers move over my sagging breasts

my nipples and soft parts of my body

Neutralize!

 

Fahmida Riaz

Chadur and Char-diwari

 

Sire! What use is this black chadur to me?

A thousand mercies, why do you reward me with this?

 

I am not in mourning that I should wear this

To flag my grief to the world

I am not a disease that needs to be drowned in secret darkness

 

I am not a sinner nor a criminal

That I should stamp my forehead with its darkness

If you will not consider me too impudent

If you promise that you will spare my life

I beg to submit in all humility

O Master of men!

In your highness’ fragrant chambers

lies a dead body

Who knows how long it has been rotting?

It seeks pity from you

 

Sire, do be so kind

Do not give me this black chadur

With this black chadur cover the shroudless body

lying in your chamber

 

For the stench that emanates from this body

Walks buffed and breathless in every alleyway

Bangs her head on every doorframe

Covering her nakedness

 

Listen to her heart rending screams

Which raise strange spectre

That remain naked in spite of their chadur.

Who are they ? You must know them ,Sire.

 

Your highness must recognise them

These are the hand – maidens

The hostages who are halal for the night

With the breath of morning they become homeless

They are the slaves who are above

The half-share of inheritance for your

Highness’s off-spring.

 

These are the Bibis

Who wait to fulfill their vows of marriage

In turn, as they stand , row upon row

They are the maidens,

On whose heads , when your highness laid a hand

of paternal affection,

The blood of their innocent youth stained the

whiteness of your beard with red

In your fragrant chamber , tears of blood,

life itself has shed

Where this carcass has lain

For long centuries, this body spectacle of the murder

of humanity.

 

Bring this show to an end now

Sire, cover it up now

Not I, but you need this chadur now.

 

For my person is not merely a symbol of your lust:

Across the highways of life , sparkles my intelligence

If a bead of sweat sparkles on the earth’s brow it is

my diligence.

 

These four walls , this chadur I wish upon the

rotting carcass.

In the open air, her sails flapping , races ahead

my ship.

I am the companion of the New Adam

Who has earned my self-assured love.

 

[Translated from Urdu by Rukhsana Ahmed]

Suheir Hammad

What I Will

2007

 

I will not

dance to your war

drum. I will

not lend my soul nor

my bones to your war

drum. I will

not dance to your

beating. I know that beat.

It is lifeless. I know

intimately that skin

you are hitting. It

was alive once

hunted stolen

stretched. I will

not dance to your drummed

up war. I will not pop

spin beak for you. I

will not hate for you or

even hate you. I will

not kill for you. Especially

I will not die

for you. I will not mourn

the dead with murder nor

suicide. I will not side

with you nor dance to bombs

because everyone else is

dancing. Everyone can be

wrong. Life is a right not

collateral or casual. I

will not forget where

I come from. I

will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved

near and our chanting

will be dancing. Our

humming will be drumming. I

will not be played. I

will not lend my name

nor my rhythm to your

beat. I will dance

and resist and dance and

persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than

death. Your war drum ain’t

louder than this breath.

Pussy Riot

Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest by Pussy Riot

The joyful science of occupying squares

The will to everyone’s power, without damn leaders

Direct action—the future of mankind!

LGBT, feminists, defend the nation!

Death to prison, freedom to protest!

Make the cops serve freedom,

Protests bring on good weather

Occupy the square, do a peaceful takeover

Take the guns from all the cops

Death to prison, freedom to protest!

Fill the city, all the squares and streets,

There are many in Russia, beat it,

Open all the doors, take off the epaulettes

Come taste freedom together with us

Death to prison, freedom to protest!

Maria Aloykhina (member of Pussy Riot)

In Light of Current Events 

2011

 

Bad things aren’t scary to do; everyone does them.

It’s not hard to hide in a crowd, no one will notice.

One piece of trash more, one piece less.

What’s there to be said—it’s the times we live in, they’re like that.

We got unlucky. But, no.

You cannot be afraid or ashamed to do good.

You cannot.

There’s so frighteningly little of that around these days.

Cynicism’s in fashion.

Ironic smiles and dull melancholy.

Know this: if you don’t do it, possibly, no one will.

A lot of them just don’t have the time to look at what they’re doing, let alone the time to take stock.

They have time to look at others, they have time to assign blame.

If you choose to do good, if you choose to help come what may, know this: you have lost.

You have most certainly lost.

But this doesn’t mean that you mustn’t do it.

It is important to remember who we are.

It is important to know that your conscience is what matters.

It is important to follow your conscience.

It is important not so much to change things, but to know that you are changing them.

Ntozake Shange

With No Immediate Cause

 

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten

every five minutes a

woman is raped/every ten minutes

a lil girl is molested

yet i rode the subway today

i sat next to an old man who

may have beaten his old wife

3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago

he might have sodomized his

daughter but i sat there

cuz the young men on the train

might beat some young women

later in the day or tomorrow

i might not shut my door fast

every 3 minutes it happens

some woman’s innocence

rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth

like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn

apart/their mouths

menses red & split/every

three minutes a shoulder

is jammed through plaster and the oven door/

chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or

boiling sperm decorate her body

i rode the subway today

& bought a paper from a

man who might

have held his old lady onto

a hot pressing iron/i don’t know

maybe he catches lil girls in the

park & rips open their behinds

with steel rods/i can’t decide

what he might have done i only

know every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so

i bought the paper

looking for the announcement

the discovery/of the dismembered

woman’s body/the

victims have not all been

identified/today they are

naked and dead/refuse to

testify/one girl out of 10′s not

coherent/i took the coffee

& spit it up/i found an

announcement/not the woman’s

bloated body in the river/floating

not the child bleeding in the

59th street corridor/not the baby

broken on the floor/

there is some concern

that alleged battered women

might start to murder their

husbands & lovers with no

immediate cause”

i spit up i vomit i am screaming

we all have immediate cause

every 3 minutes

every 5 minutes

every 10 minutes

every day

women’s bodies are found

in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs

before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink

coffee/i must know/

have you hurt a woman today

did you beat a woman today

throw a child across a room

are the lil girl’s panties

in your pocket

did you hurt a woman today

i have to ask these obscene questions

the authorities require me to

establish

immediate cause

every three minutes

every five minutes

every ten minutes

every day.

Minnie Bruce Pratt

Red String 

2003

 

      At first she thought the lump in the road

was clay thrown up by a trucker’s wheel.

Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers:

Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring

at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.

Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed

their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.

It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed

and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,

creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.

Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed

as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded

themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.

Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power

to split the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless

horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,

saying: We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!

Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice

or limp or mended boots but said nothing, allowed the marchers

to pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other

lives down ravines, to save their skins another night from

the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,

who wait by the grave for the body’s return to the earth.

Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums.

Watched a man’s face flicker in the purple-black leaves.

Then they burned the tree.

Smoke from their fires

still lay over the land where Beatrice traveled.

Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,

voices from the place where some voices never stop:

They took my boy down by Sucarnochee Creek.

      He said, “Gentlemen, what have I done?”

      They says, “Never mind what you have done.

      We just want your damned heart.” After they

      killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out

      by him all night until the neighbors came

      in the morning. I was standing there when

      they killed him, down by Sucarnochee Creek.

            I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting

            scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks

            on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed

            where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me

            out into the field so that the blood strung across

            the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,

            in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went

            back into my house and ate the food on the stove.

            They have drove me from my home. It is over

            by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.

      I had informed of persons whom I saw

      dressing in Ku Klux disguise;

      had named the parties. At the time

      I was divorced from Dr. Randall

      and had a school near Fredonia.

      About one month before the election

      some young men about the county

      came in the nighttime; they said

      I was not a decent woman; also

      I was teaching radical politics.

      They whipped me with hickory withes.

      The gashes cut through my thin dress,

      through the abdominal wall.

      I was thrown into a ravine

      in a helpless condition. The school

      closed after my death.

From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew

toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening

while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:

Child, what have you been up to while we

      were trying to keep body and soul together?

      But never mind that now. Here’s what you must do:

      Tie a red flannel string around your waist.

      Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember

      your past, and ours. Always remember who you are.

      Don’t let those men fool you about the ways of life

      even if blood must sign your name.

Elfriede Jelinek

Tonight, 2000

Translated by Michael Hoffmann

 

tonight

my sparrows

let go

the snow

into fields of carnations swollen with anger.

 

tonight

the three popes

proclaim

the revolution

against teenage television.

 

seals smash

their heads

bloody

their heads

on the elevators

the paternoster elevators

which delays the holding of their conference.

 

tonight

my sister

the wind’s bride

gives blood

for the cello

of the jericho desert

which prompts the trombones

to hold a protest meeting.

 

tonight

I hang your lips

like birdseed

outside my door

and observe

through the window

their death-struggle

with the she vulture.

 

tonight

let go

the snow

Amy Lowell

Madonna of the Evening Flowers 

1919

 

All day long I have been working,

Now I am tired.

I call:  “Where are you?”

But there is only the oak tree rustling in the wind.

The house is very quiet,

The sun shines in on your books,

On your scissors and thimble just put down,

But you are not there.

Suddenly I am lonely:

Where are you?

I go about searching.

 

Then I see you,

Standing under a spire of pale blue larkspur,

With a basket of roses on your arm.

You are cool, like silver,

And you smile.

I think the Canterbury bells are playing little tunes.

 

You tell me that the peonies need spraying,

That the columbines have overrun all bounds,

That the pyrus japonica should be cut back and rounded.

You tell me these things.

But I look at you, heart of silver,

White heart-flame of polished silver,

Burning beneath the blue steeples of the larkspur.

And I long to kneel instantly at your feet,

While all about us peal the loud, sweet `Te Deums’ of the Canterbury bells.

Joan Larkin

Want

1997

 

She wants a house full of cups and the ghosts

of last century’s lesbians; I want a spotless

apartment, a fast computer.  She wants a woodstove,

three cords of ash, an axe; I want

a clean gas flame.  She wants a row of jars:

oats, coriander, thick green oil;

I want nothing to store.  She wants pomanders,

linens, baby quilts, scrapbooks.  She wants Wellesley

reunions.  I want gleaming floorboards, the river’s

reflection.  She wants shrimp and sweat and salt;

she wants chocolate.  I want a raku bowl,

steam rising from rice.  She wants goats,

chickens, children.  Feeding and weeping.  I want

wind from the river freshening cleared rooms.

She wants birthdays, theaters, flags, peonies.

I want words like lasers.  She wants a mother’s

tenderness.  Touch ancient as the river.

I want a woman’s wit swift as a fox.

She’s in her city, meeting

her deadline; I’m in my mill village out late

with the dog, listening to the pinging wind bells, thinking

of the twelve years of wanting, apart and together.

We’ve kissed all weekend; we want

to drive the hundred miles and try it again.

 

Alix Olson

That the Protagonist Is Always a Man

 

That Cheney’s daughter campaigns for Bush’s son.

That Bush’s son wins a presidency that hates her.

The way Condoleeza Rice called her boss, her husband. That it was an easy slip.

That the 1960s beatniks are the revolutionary poets. That seventh-century-BC Sappho is that lesbian poet.

How the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes Joan Baez as “the female Bob Dylan.” That she launched his career.

That in “female musician,” adjective becomes noun.

How Marge Piercy says “the moon must be female.”

That the moon was forcibly penetrated by an American flag.

That plots on the moon are now up for sale.

Because Mother Earth is melting.

How the Security Council of the United Nations has five permanent members. That all five are the official “nuclear weapon states.” That the United States is the only country to have dropped an atomic bomb. That it is called the security council.

The way the old philosophers who declared human nature to be naturally brutish were men.

How that one guy in your women’s studies class raised his hand for the first time in the semester to reprimand that “men can be raped too.” That we respect all voices. That maybe he has a point. That he is a good guy for being there.

That Margaret Thatcher. Queen Elizabeth. Hillary Clinton.

How anomalies save their ass.

That father with the baby in the backpack in the grocery store.

How exceptions erase us.

That Adam produced Eve. That Mary did not birth Jesus.

How miracles screw us.

The way that a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit exclude us from the highest positions of power in the Catholic Church. How they, condemning women and fags, then don dresses, diddle little boys, devour the flesh and blood of their gaunt, devout, dapper, special man-friend.

The way women, denied education, had to pass down our herstory through stories and poems and dance and music and recipes. How the Great writers and poets and dancers and musicians and chefs have not been women.

That my computer spell-checks “herstory.”

The way the English language carries us inside Man like his fetus. That is is only our wombs that are patrolled.

That the members of Jane, helping to provide safe abortions before Roe v. Wade, were criminals.

That the rounding bellies in South Dakota clinic lines are murderers.

That Emma Goldman was considered a U.S. terrorist.

That they are pro-life. That they take the good words.

That Ann Coulter may consider herself an “us.”

That self-determination is terrifying.

That self-determination is what we fight for.

That we fight for our sisters’ right to choose stilettos. How the women in horror films can’t run in stilettos. That one drag queen who used her stiletto as a weapon during Stonewall. How the women in horror films can’t run in stilettos.

The way CNN finally devoted an hour long segment to the brutal systematic government-sponsored rapes in Darfur.

How these women fled bombed and burning homes and still had the courage to testify to Amnesty International. How one sixteen-year-old had been raped by ten men for seventy-two hours straight. How pregnant women are not spared. How women have their nails pulled out. How unmarried women are considered spoiled.

That the title of the broadcast was “Angelina Jolie: Her Motherhood, Her Mission.”

That she was wearing stilettos.

That the Lesbian Herstory Archives can fit no more material into its Brooklyn brownstone.

That Focus on the Family headquarters has its own zip code.

That the National Organization for Women. That the Kitchen Table Press. That the Radical Cheerleaders. That the Feminist Majority. That NGLTF. That the Third Wave Foundation. That Planned Parenthood. That the Guerrilla Girls. That Code Pink. That NARAL. That Refuse and Resist.

Is why I am a radical feminist.

 

Minnie Bruce Pratt

All the Women Caught in Flaring Light 

2003

1

Imagine a big room of women doing anything,

playing cards, having a meeting, the rattle

of paper or coffee cups or chairs pushed back,

the loud and quiet murmur of their voices,

women leaning their heads together. If we

leaned in at the door and I said, Those women

are mothers, you wouldn’t be surprised, except

at me for pointing out the obvious fact.

Women are mothers, aren’t they? So obvious.

Say we walked around to 8th or 11th Street

to drop in on a roomful of women, smiling, intense,

playing pool, the green baize like moss. One

lights another’s cigarette, oblique glance.

Others dance by twos under twirling silver moons

that rain light down in glittering drops.

If I said in your ear, through metallic guitars,

These women are mothers, you wouldn’t believe me,

would you? Not really, not even if you had come

to be one of the women in that room. You’d say:

Well, maybe, one or two, a few. It’s what we say.

Here, we hardly call our children’s names out loud.

We’ve lost them once, or fear we may. We’re careful

what we say. In the clanging silence, pain falls

on our hearts, year in and out, like water cutting

a groove in stone, seeking a channel, a way out,

pain running like water through the glittering room.

2

I often think of a poem as a door that opens

into a room where I want to go. But to go in

here is to enter where my own suffering exists

as an almost unheard low note in the music,

amplified, almost unbearable, by the presence

of us all, reverberant pain, circular, endless,

which we speak of hardly at all, unless a woman

in the dim privacy tells me a story of her child

lost, now or twenty years ago, her words sliding

like a snapshot out of her billfold, faded outline

glanced at and away from, the story elliptic, oblique

to avoid the dangers of grief. The flashes of story

brilliant and grim as strobe lights in the dark,

the dance shown as grimace, head thrown back in pain.

Edie’s hands, tendons tense as wire, spread, beseeched,

how she’d raised them, seven years, and now not even a visit,

Martha said she’d never see the baby again.

Her skinny brown arms folded against her flat breasts,

flat-assed in blue jeans, a dyke looking hard as a hammer:

And who would call her a mother?

Or tall pale Connie,

rainbow skirts twirling, her sailing-away plans, islands,

women plaiting straw with shells: Who would have known

until the night, head down on my shoulder, she cried out

for her children shoved behind the father, shadows

who heard him curse her from the door, hell’s fire

as she waited for them in the shriveled yard?

All the women caught in flaring light, glimpsed

in mystery: The red-lipped, red-fingertipped woman

who dances by, sparkling like fire, is she here on the sly,

four girls and a husband she’ll never leave from fear?

The butch in black denim, elegant as ashes, her son

perhaps sent back, a winter of no heat, a woman’s salary.

The quiet woman drinking gin, thinking of being sixteen,

the baby wrinkled as wet clothes, seen once, never again.

Loud music, hard to talk, and we’re careful what we say.

A few words, some gesture of our hands, some bit of story

cryptic as the mark gleaming on our hands, the ink

tattoo, the sign that admits us to this room, iridescent

in certain kinds of light, then vanishing, invisible.

3

If suffering were no more than a song’s refrain

played through four times with its sad lyric,

only half-heard in the noisy room, then done with,

I could write the poem I imagined: All the women

here see their lost children come into the dim room,

the lights brighten, we are in the happy ending,

no more hiding, we are ourselves and they are here

with us, a reconciliation, a commotion of voices.

I’ve seen it happen. I have stories from Carla,

Wanda. I have my own: the hammering at authority,

the years of driving round and round for a glimpse,

for anything, and finally the child, big, awkward,

comes with you, to walk somewhere arm in arm.

But things have been done to us that can never be

undone. The woman in the corner smiling at friends,

the one with black hair glinting white, remembers

the brown baby girl’s weight relaxed into her lap.

The brown-eyed baby who flirted before she talked,

taken and sent away twenty years ago, no recourse.

If she stood in the door, the woman would not know her,

and the child would have no memory of the woman,

not of lying on her knees nor at her breast, leaving

a hidden mark, pain grooved and etched on the heart.

The woman’s told her friends about the baby. They

keep forgetting. Her story drifts away like smoke,

like vague words in a song, a paper scrap in the water.

When they talk about mothers, they never think of her.

No easy ending to this pain. At midnight we go home

to silent houses, or perhaps to clamorous rooms full

of those who are now our family. Perhaps we sit alone,

heavy with the past, and there are tears running bitter

and steady as rain in the night. Mostly we just go on.

Susan Hampton

[I pinch myself hard on the inner arm] 

2005

 

I pinch myself hard on the inner arm,

inwardly smiling yet frightened too – what if

I get caught in this far realm, on the underside of the world,

in these pixelated centuries where humans are exactly

the same, both kind and radically unkind –

So anyway, I say, her husband has his ships ready

to go to war, and he’s waiting for the wind.

He decides to order the sacrifice of their daughter – the wind

comes, and they sail off to defend a trading route at Troy.

Jade says, And this trading route is called “Helen”?

Very good. OK, skip ten years.

When the husband comes back, his wife unrolls a purple carpet

and his cousin prepares a banquet. His wife says, Darling,

the slave-girls have run you a bath. He bathes.

His wife finds out there’s someone at the front door

from Troy, a woman called Cassandra, holding twins

she bore to the husband. Cassandra would like to come in.

Maybe this piece of information was the trigger to the murder –

at any rate, as her husband steps from the tub, she wraps a net

around him as if it were a bathrobe, a net she’d made herself –

Wait, are you hungry? Jade says. Come into the kitchen.

Amid the chicken bones and a potato salad

she says, All right, go on.

You have a very nice mouth, I say.

Go on, she says, the net, wraps it round him.

OK. So the cousin comes in and takes two swipes

with his sword, his two-edged sword,

then the wife beheads the husband with her double-headed axe

AHA! Jade says. Yes, I say.

Then, splashed with his blood and bearing his head,

she runs to the banqueting room where his followers

are being slaughtered among the mixing-bowls.

She has defended herself and her daughter –

everything else is gloss at that point. Revenge,

though sticky-fingered, is sweet.

More chicken?

Thanks. Her kids, a son and daughter, were sent away

in case they grew up wanting to avenge their father.

Which of course they do, Jade says.

The surviving girl sends messages to her brother, who’s

in another country: don’t forget: come home

when you can, and avenge our father –

Years pass. Grown up now, the boy goes to Apollo’s shrine

for advice, and the oracle tells him to do just that.

In the end, the boy does come back from exile, and kills

his mother. A court case develops about the matricide,

and this is where we come into it. See, up till now,

the punishment for matricide has always been death.

Lineage has been through the mother.

But this play was written at a particular point in history.

Or pre-history, Jade says.

Right. So the court is held at the Shrine of Apollo,

and Apollo himself is counsel for the defence.

Alecto is given the job of public prosecutor –

Your sister? Jade says.

Yes. So the Magistrate calls up some citizens, and

we hear the case. What were the mitigating factors?

‘The son was told to do it.’ His father’s ghost

and ‘the oracle of Apollo himself’ told him to kill his mother.

They made the rest of their case,

mostly spurious, one of Apollo’s arguments being

that it’s less bad to kill a woman than a man.

We made some good arguments, but

the vote for the boy to die was fifty-fifty.

 

At the deadlock, Athena turned up, Athena!

her garment having been kissed by many men or what,

we don’t know, and she in her deciding vote acquitted

him. For us to lose, in effect, a case of matricide

meant the balance of power was shifting.

I pour another vodka. What I didn’t say to Jade was,

it meant we’d be lying low for some time,

centuries perhaps. I remember the fires of earlier camps.

In the distance, border furies, heat furies, storm furies.

The sound of the Barking Owl.

And this owl, a real owl, sounds like a woman being murdered –

Athena, your bird is telling you something!

But Athena, last we heard, was with her cousin Kate Kyriakou

on their way back to Greece for the Olympics.

At the last minute they got a Virgin flight.

It’s an irony of fate, I said, that it was a foremost goddess

who helped tilt that power.

Or not, Jade said, maybe it was simply a pivot-point in storytelling

where men must be shown to be in control, and the best

way to do that is to get a woman to do the job.

Yes, I said. Let’s present it to Athena this way: she’s being chosen

to give an award in a public ceremony and get her picture

in the morning paper, her big chance, as a goddess,

to be kind and compassionate.

To downplay the warlike.

Mesmerise her with theology – Jade said,

and perhaps flirt with her at the same time.

For whatever reason, I said, Athena – without consenting

to matricide – did not give it a high level of punishment.

Certainly she didn’t exact a death.

In that sense you have to admit she is a civilising factor, I said.

Flick your dreads as you may, Jade said.

We hounded the son, though, I said. One time we said

we’d leave him alone for a while if he promised to do

penance at the Temple of Artemis.

Kirya Yvonne

(her comment: Wrote with the brilliant young people in the Queeriosity workshop tonight. I’m sharing for the sake of 30/30, but TRUST that these kids are way more talented than me. This is also totally un-edited.)

2011

Dear Halle Berry, here are some things you need to know:

First of all, fuck you.

For your small frame, and light eyes, and pressed hair.

For your cheerleader beauty queen past.

For you nose job.

For being so quick to show your tits in a movie.

For being the only chick on TV with a white mama

For calling yourself Black

when I needed you to be mixed.

For calling yourself Black and taking all the Black woman roles

from all the darker skinned sisters.

For never

having your blackness questioned despite

your light skin and light eyes and white mama

when I am daily held up and examined.

Fuck you for being the best thing I could look up to.

I see you in my reflection

and it frightens me:

Pretty,

good hair,

getting slimmer everyday,

learning to work my curves,

my feminine wiles,

balancing on that fine line

between reward and manipulation.

I ask myself, how far will I take this?

Would I shave, cut, pluck, dye, straighten,

act straight just to make it?

would it be worth it?

Sometimes I forget

to watch my back.

My bedroom, dressing room,

front door, curtain blacks,

Black, the only costume I can never take off.

I forget how bright the light shines,

that the audience is always paying attention,

paying customers,

they want a good show.

Sometimes I forget that I am anything

more than this body I was born in,

that this body is 500 years of slavery,

forced integration, alcoholic, bad decision,

out-of-wedlock baby.

I forget that my skin holds memory,

holds reflection,

mirror for everyone

loathe to see their own image staring back at them.

I will hold out my hand to you

Sister, who is no more tank and barricade

against this fire then I am.

What strength would I ask you to have

that I cannot wield myself?

Here on the big screen

where all your flaws are amplified

screaming to be accepted.

I will hold out my hand to you

across this mirror and forgive

each and every transgression.

t’ai freedom ford

fourth: a blues

she taste like the color blue…all beautifully bruised and melancholy on my tongue. like blue glinting golden…bee-stung and swollen in a field of cotton…like blue verging black until all memory’s forgotten…she taste like blues…like muddy waters…like daughters of the dust…like mississippi goddamn…like thrust and thirst…like heartbreak so new it tastes like trust at first…like a wound you must nurse with your own salty tears…she taste like blue…cause that’s the color of her: fears/fierce…like an azure hue reminiscent of sky breaking wide open…blue like colored girls who done tried dope when hope wasn’t enough…when that man wasn’t enough…when being tough wasn’t enough…blue like nina’s voice and storm clouds…she rains blue-black…arm, tattooed jack, and sometimes her loyalty is tragic…still she blue like magic…all stardust and confetti and taps of wands…and when the house of cards collapses she responds…with jesus on her breath…eyes watery with devotion…taste like blue: royal and periwinkle and aqua…blue like the fifth chakra vibrating her throat translucent…rocking with holyghost trying to shake loose sin…within her, blues run deep and honeysuckle sweet like grandmama’s hambone on a sunday morn…blue like early morning beckoning sinners toward their reckoning…blue like night sky sucking up light like a magic trick…tragic as guitar strings breaking like my heart…she taste blue like tragedy…all shakespearean and love unfulfilled…but that’s what she do…slips into characters like new skin…ingenue…sparkling blue on silver screens…beautifully blue…making art outta life…all spit-shined and bruised like the blues of the south…a new shade of truth…exploding its name in my mouth…she taste like…

 

Jackie Kay

Darling

2007

You might forget the exact sound of her voice,

Or how her face looked when sleeping.

You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping

Curled into the shape of a half moon,

When smaller than her self, she seemed already to be leaving

Before she left, when the blossom was on the trees

And the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.

I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –

Heil Ya Ho Boys, Let her go Boys

And when I stopped singing she had slipped away,

Already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,

Her heart light, her face almost smiling.

And what I didn’t know, or couldn’t see then,

Was that she hadn’t really gone.

The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.

The dead are still here holding our hand

Fay Zwicky

The Age of Aquarius 

2006

 

She slumps in the disabled bay

clutching a waffle-cotton gown

around a spreading paunch,

shambling breasts.

Why not say ‘I’?

For that’s who sits at 6 a.m.

waiting for the health club

pool to open in the rain.

A grown woman, after all,

supposed to know her whereabouts.

Today’s my mother’s birthday,

a 1907 Aquarian of the self-

denying kind, ‘never say “I”’ her motto.

She had me nailed for years. Her voice

drowns out the radio’s chattering static.

Now I’m the same age she was, dying,

observing noble savagery:

a gathering knot of skinny women,

tight black butts in leotards,

regulation sneakers, Brazil-waxed calves,

gripping i-pods, mobiles, water bottles.

The men stand back, silent, sullen,

balding, bored and out of it. Health stalkers,

renouncers of smoke and flame,

deniers of brimstone.

One hell of a century:

between the holocaust and the atom bomb

who are these people?

Between the deep and shallow end,

never say thank you or good morning.

Avoid eye contact.

Signals may be misinterpreted.

Slow Lane, Fast Lane, Walking Lane

Only’s where I’m at.

The moving parts count laps:

twenty five’s a half-hour’s worth.

I sing myself a rumba to keep rhythm;

the Speedo wall clock ticks a strict 4/4

defeats my ruse while dove’s feet skitter

arrow-wise across the perspex roof.

No Diving Running Eating Smiling

Share if lanes are busy.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

The waiting crowd are all, like me,

up early talking or silent,

more vivacious than galahs,

more foolish than parrots.

We stand and wait, walk up and down

in the rain talking or not, holding

in sagging muscle, spreading paunch,

talking about things that must matter.

So much seems to hang on

getting in that door.

Sonya Renee

What Women Deserve 

2009

 

Culturally-diversified biracial girl with

a small diamond nose ring and a pretty smile

poses besides the words

“Women Deserve Better”.

 

and I almost let her non-threatening grin

begin to infiltrate my psyche

until I read the unlikely small print

at the bottom of the ad:

Sponsored by the US Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities

and the Knights of Columbus

 

On a bus

in a city

with a population of 553,000,

4 teenage mothers on the bus with me,

1 Latina woman with 3 children under 3

and no signs of a daddy.

 

One sixteen year old black girl

standing in 22-degree weather

with only a sweater

a book bag

and a bassinette,

with an infant that ain’t even four weeks yet

tell me that Yes ….

Women do deserve better.

 

Women deserve better

than public transportation rhetoric

from the same people who

won’t give that teenage mother

a ride to the next transit.

Won’t let you talk to their kids about safer sex

Have never had to listen as the door SLAMS

behind the man who adamantly says,

“That shit” ain’t his

leaving her to wonder how she’ll raise this kid.

 

Women deserve better

than the 300 dollars TANF and AFC

will provide that family of three

or the 6 dollar an hour job at KFC

with no benefits for her new baby

or the college degree she may never see

because you can’t have infants at the university

 

Women deserve better

than lip service paid for by politicians

who have no alternatives to abortion

though I am sure

right this moment one of their seventeen year old daughters

is sitting in a clinic lobby

sobbing quietly and anonymously

praying parents don’t find out

or will be waiting for mom to pick her up because research shows

that out-of-wedlock childbirth doesn’t look good on political polls and

Daddy ain’t having that.

 

Women deserve better

than backwards governmental policies

that don’t want to pay

for welfare for kids

or health care for kids

or child care for kids

Don’t want to pay living wages to working mothers,

Don’t want to make men who only want to be last night’s lovers

responsible for the semen they lay.

 

Flat out don’t want to pay for SHIT

but want to control the woman who’s having it.

Acting outraged at abortion.

Well I’m outraged

that they want us to believe

that they believe

that women deserve better.

 

The Vatican won’t prosecute pedophile priests

But I decide I’m not ready for motherhood

and it’s condemnation for me

These are the same people who won’t support

national condom distribution to prevent teenage pregnancy.

But women deserve better.

 

Women deserve better

than back-alley surgeries

that leave our wombs barren and empty.

Deserve better

than organizations bearing the name

of land-stealing racist rapists

funding million dollar campaigns on subway trains

with no money to give these women

while balding middle-aged white men

tell us what to do with our bodies

while they wage wars and kill other people’s babies

 

So maybe women deserve better

than propaganda and lies

to get into office

Propaganda and lies

to get into panties

to get out of court

to get out of paying child support

 

Get the hell out of our decisions

and give us back our voice

Women do deserve better

Women deserve choice

kari edwards

from the posthumous book  Bharat jiva, 2006

 

[in the general conservative cast . . .]

 

in the general conservative cast, overcome by lack of suicidal tendencies, in the worried beyond reason shaking dense under-growth invasion of deliberately callous vertebrates, hotheaded newagers paint possible minds dirtier than can be produced in a real whereabouts nonlocation location, crumbling in darkness.

 

a breath away from my next instant self, knowing lies will flow from my lips as well as the rest; a creative fallacy to create that which we think we know, with a thousand pens ready to suggest what one should do.

 

reminding myself, all ends with what effects it will have.

 

reminding myself, all ends with what can be named and financed, so why not let my bones be picked by the ants.

 

reminding myself, I would do anything to not remember who I resemble, I would do anything to not resemble who I resemble, to not resemble the resembled.

 

reminding myself, I would do anything to not belong to a future human potential workshop, supported by a cast of thousands begging for all things mundane sanity brings, in general overcome by lack of suicidal tendencies.

Andrea Gibson

I Do

 

I Do.

I do.

But the motherfuckers say we can’t.

‘cause you’re a girl and I’m a girl

or at least something close

So the most we can hope for is an uncivil union in Vermont

but I want church bells – I want rosary beads;

I want Jesus on his knees.

I want to walk down the aisle while all the patriarchy smiles

That’s not true.

But I do want to spend my life with you.

 

And I want to know that fifty years from now when you’re in a hospital room

getting ready to die, when visiting hours are for family members only,

I want to know they’ll let me in to say goodbye.

‘Cause I’ve been fifty years memorizing how the lines beneath your eyes form rivers when you cry and I’ve held my hand like an ocean at your cheek saying, “Baby, flow to me.”

‘Cause fifty years I’ve watched you grow with me

fifty years of you never letting go of me,

through nightmares and dreams and everything in between

From the day I said “Buy me a ring.”

Buy me a ring that will turn my finger green so I can imagine our love is a forest

I wanna get lost in you.

And I swear I grew like a flower every hour of the fifty years I was with you

And that’s not to say we didn’t have bad days.

Like the day you said, “That checkout girl was so sweet.”

And I said I’d like to eat that checkout clerk and you said,

“Baby that’s not funny” and I said

“Baby, maybe you could take a fucking joke now and then,”

and so I slept on the couch that night.

 

But when morning came, you were laughing.

Yeah, there were times we were both half-in and half out the door

but I never needed more than the stars of your grin to lead me home.

For fifty years, you were my favorite poem

and I’d read you every night knowing I might never understand every word

but that’s okay – ‘cause the lines of you were the closest thing to holy I’d ever heard.

You’d say, “This kind of love has to be a verb.

We are paint on a slick canvas – it’s gonna take a whole lot to stick

but if we do, we’ll be a masterpiece.”

And we were.

 

From the beginning living in towns that frowned at our hand-holding,

folding up their stares like hate notes into our pockets so we could pretend they weren’t there.

You said, “Fear is only a verb if you let it be. Don’t you dare let go of my hand.”

That was my favorite line.

That and the time we saw two boys kissing on the streets in Kansas,

and we both broke down crying, because it was Kansas

and what are the chances of seeing anything but corn in Kansas?

We were born again that day.

I cut your cord and you cut mine,

and the chords of time played like a concerto of hope

Like we could feel the rope unwind,

feel the noose of hate loosening,

loosening from years of “People like you aren’t welcome here.

People like you can’t work here.

People like you cannot adopt”

So we had lots of cats and dogs

and once even a couple of monkeys you taught to sing,

“Hey, hey, we’re the monkeys.” You were crazy like that

And I was crazy about you.

 

On nights you couldn’t sleep, I’d lay awake for hours counting sheep for you

and you would rewrite the rhythm of my heartbeat with the way you held me in the morning,

resting your head on my chest

and I swear my breath turned silver the day your hair did,

like I swore marigolds grew in the folds of my eyelids the first time I saw you

and they bloomed the first time I watched you dance to the tune of our kitchen kettle in our living room

in a world that could have left us hard as metal,

we were soft as nostalgia together.

For fifty years, we feathered wings too wide to be prey

and we flew through days strong and through days fragile as sand-castles at high tide

and you would fold your love into an origami firefly

and you’d throw it through my passageways until all my hidden chambers were filled with lanterns, now, every trap door, every pore of my heart is open because of you

Because of us

So I do, I do, I do

want to be in that room with you.

When visiting hours are for family members only,

I want to know they’ll let me in.

I want to know they’ll let you hold me

while I sing,

“Ba be de bop de ba ba, baby I’m so in love with you.

Baby, I’m so in love with you.

Ba be de bop ba dingy dong ding – goodbye.”

Merle Woo

Transgenderism:

The Essential Challenge

2003

 

You might say that our

society has acknowledged. . .finally

three categories of human sexuality:

straight, gay, and bi

But what about transgenderism

which fills out the rest of the sexual spectrum

perhaps unrelated to sexual preference

which is potent in its challenge to

Patriarchal Capitalism?

How will the status quo continue

to reinforce women’s free labor in the home

which justifies their being underpaid at the workplace?

72¢ on the dollar a man makes for white women,

and even less for women of color and disabled women?

How will women’s inferiority be reinforced

The cult of motherhood and servitude

If you can’t tell the difference?

Dominika Bednarska

Cripple

2014

 

Cripple

I like the rip in it

the space between oh and

ohh not having to cover it like

a rip in my stocking

the gap between what you saw when I was sitting at the bar

and

what you saw when I walked away

I like the ripple in it

the way it mimics the sway

and contract of my body

its constant small motions

the way at first

friends and lovers won’t even say it

can barely push it off the tongue

and then find it one day

not only filled with fire and wind

but also water and air

My Body Has Not Changed

2014

 

My Body Has Not Changed

I feel smaller with each passing

cut into what I need to stay alive

and that sounds like such a cliché.

I don’t have to guess at what would happen without help

because I remember and this is one piece of it

If I can’t eat because I cant make

food for myself my days will be filled

up with water like my stomach until

I finally can’t take it and have to buy

made food no matter how sick it makes

or how much it costs me

So I will wait until nightfall to eat for the first

time and “Come on.” my friend will say when I call

delirious with hunger or nausea or both and say

“I’m not sure if its worth all the effort it takes

to keep eating….it so much money and energy.”

“You don’t mean that.” She’ll say.

And I don’t.

I mean I get depressed because the very basic resources

I need to stay alive are

constantly being threatened and sometimes

like this time

taken away I want a decent income

satisfying work

a space for my art

and a worthy partner.

This is not asking a lot.

Perhaps you have similar aspirations.

My disability does not prevent me from having any of these things

A system that constantly devalues my life

and criminalizes my need for support services does.

My body has not changed today

What changed was a law

It is not about what I can and can’t do for myself

but what we as a society will

and will not do for one another.

Adrienne Rich

From an Atlas of the Difficult World  

1991

 

I know you are reading this poem

late, before leaving your office

of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window

in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet

long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem

standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean

on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven

across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.

I know you are reading this poem

in a room where too much has happened for you to bear

where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed

and the open valise speaks of flight

but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem

as the underground train loses momentum and before running

up the stairs

toward a new kind of love

your life has never allowed.

I know you are reading this poem by the light

of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide

while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.

I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room

of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.

I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light

in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,

count themselves out, at too early an age. I know

you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick

lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on

because even the alphabet is precious.

I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove

warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your

hand

because life is short and you too are thirsty.

I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language

guessing at some words while others keep you reading

and I want to know which words they are.

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn

between bitterness and hope

turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.

I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else

left to read

there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

Janani Balasubramanian, ’12, Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13, and Cam Awkward-Rich

Queer Rage

2013

There’s no place like homo

There’s no place like homo

 

somewhere over the rainbow

way up high

there’s a land that I heard of

once in a lullaby

 

Wake up honi

it’s called san francisco

where white bourgie bitches getting gay married

but my ass ain’t got an invite sha hoo~

 

Somewhere over the rainbow

Blue birds fly.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, oh why can’t I?

 

BECAUSE YOU’RE BROWN HONEY GURL

I’m bout to sassy gay friend this ish ~

 

Not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you

Rainbows are just refracted beams of white light,

Gay marriage activism is a temper tantrum:

Mommy I’m going to buy an “I’m a second class citizen” American Apparel v-neck to go with my corporate internship and some ass

 

I didn’t always think this way

Cuz philadelphia taught me everything i still know about shame

that my queer body was something to “correct”

that looking like “a faggot with a cunt” only meant

I was looking for trouble

 

So in high school I laced my shoes with rainbows

and preached the gospel of equal rights and pride

That tell us marriage will finally untangle

our love from shame, will legislate us wholly human

But the day same sex marriage was legalized in New York, DC, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa it didn’t get better because “Somewhere over the rainbow” there’s a pot of Goldman Sachs

 

**DUN DUN DUN DUN**We are gathered here today**

for richer, for poorer

 

tell that to El’Jai who lost his job last year

His state is one of only 12

where you cannot legally be fired

for having a body that doesn’t sit right with your heart

but his job “could only be done by a man”

and his genitals did not conform to his employers expectations.

[I do not know if he won the court case, only that he has a son,

and that being brown and trans means being 4 times less likely to find work]

 

but who needs money for bread when you can eat wedding cake!

 

in good times and in bad

 

tell that to Temmie Breslauer a transwoman who was arrested for using

her father’s discount subway card.

the NYPD chained her to a wall for 28 hours and called her a he-she

to have and to be held

this is what marriage means for queer people

as we send the government wedding invitations to incarcerate our love

 

till death do us part,

 

tell that to asher brown who at thirteen took a gun to his head

as if it was an act of patriotism because in texas

being gay is a death sentence

it is nights spent whispering secrets to open skies

it is the sound of your mother crying because she wonders

how that thing came out of her

 

and i do, i do, i do

not believe that a marriage certificate

could have stopped the bullet

 

Remember,

Remember,

Remember,

There is something beautiful about being lied to:

Rainbows are just a trick of light,

They make us forget the storm is still happening,

When walking towards the end of the rainbow, it will always move away.

Jacks McNamara

The Other Side of the Incantation

the 2000s

 

It is a summer day

and you are too much alive.

The breeze removes your skin

the chain link fence breathes light

and time stops. It could all come crashing down again

the way daylight savings time starts over

and afternoons get black. There are no guarantees

only facts, miracles, and misunderstandings.

 

In the beginning it seemed clear

the revolution was too urgent to be beautiful.

Freedom was something that made you grind your teeth

it made you sob it made you broke it made you come

like the explosions at the end of the world

it made you sorry. Freedom was something you could not carry

across the border. It was something you could not keep.

Freedom had scruffy wings and dirty hair and broken shoes

freedom had cold ears and holes in her heart

where the night went. Freedom got swept off the streets

and locked in a padded room. Freedom forgot that she was real.

 

Sometimes what is real erupts

through the keys in our spine

to make music like earthquakes. Sometimes it plants

a kiss like a promise smudged in the corners of our souls.

Sometimes it leaves a ghost in our bellies

and an ache in our eyes. It does not offer instructions.

We do not understand that we must practice

over and over again. The other side of the incantation

is doing the work. It is not enough

to climb this mountain once.

Rupi Kaur

women of colour (2014)

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry

(2014)

we all move forward when
we recognize how resilient
and striking the women
around us are

… (2014)

you threw me
onto the ground
in front of you
pushed down
with your foot
and demanded
i stand up

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Posted June 29, 2014 by poetrybody in Poetry Collection

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