Book Extract: Women of Resistance

A collection of poems 'for a new feminism', edited by Daniele Barnhart and Iris Mahan. We share five our favourites

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Civil Rights

When I think about the Civil Rights Movement, I think about the pastor. He is a prominent voice of the people, a man who is doing truly great things for our community. He fights for the rights of children to study in integrated schools and has been arrested multiple times so that little boys and girls, like me, can do the best they can in this life. How old am I when I am taught the lesson that my female body must be a sacrifice for the greater good? I am seven years old when I am taught to be silent, that no one will believe me because he is a handsome, powerful, charismatic clergyman interviewed on the nightly news and I am a quiet, studious, black girl with pigtails, cheap anklets slipping into the heels of my patent leather Mary Janes, with one beautiful parent in my home, passed out, drunk on the couch. And if they believe me, then what do I want? I have to know what I want, have to have the answers to the questions that are sure to come next. What did I do wrong? I feel like a soldier coming home from a war she never signed on to ght. For years, I wake up screaming from the same recurring dream: A man in silhouette sings, “We Shall Overcome,” and locks all the doors in the world to touch me here and here and here—and still, they claim he is our revered leader.


What was it drove me to insist on sleds,
to pull the children out of the playground
and toward the park’s much steeper hills,
instead of making angels? I was waist deep and bound
by ice, and they were too. In their eyelashes
was unremovable ice. They crawled and flailed on snow.
The progress of their grudging limbs
slow. Surely memory of snow-fort caches,
the childish city happily derailed,
its hopes of milk and bread and papers dim.

When I was young I came to Boston late
late late one winter night from Baltimore.
The pre-dawn, post-blizzard of seventy-eight
glowed in the silent town where dump trucks bore
their loads of snow as through a secret city—
filling and then dumping in the harbor,
filling yet again. I’d just removed
a child from my womb. Well someone else did it
and it was not a child but some small scar
inside. It meant nothing to me, that newt,
that early fetus, and the procedure meant
nothing except perhaps the end of fear
and queasiness. Today how I resent
the way sadness and loss are souvenirs
we’re forced to carry with us. Listen—Happy
is the way I felt, and still I feel,
when I can shovel through the euphemisms
of those who speak for me. More happy. Happy t
hat forever will that speck, that organism
remain forever small and unfulfilled

in contrast to my son who came exactly
ten years after to the day, and to
a woman ready for him. I had wept
returning to my now-lost lover anew,
seeing the streets of Boston being cleaned,
scraped clear of the invading snow
that clung to arteries, that fairly smothered
our chance to try to make a normal flow
of life. That struggle with the midnight gleam:
the wiping, tidying gesture of a mother.


The wedding
is, as I have by now demonstrated, foretold.
It can’t not happen. One is to one’s shadow
as one’s future is to one. And as attached.

place one metaphorically among the women who came before us: mermaid, princess, sheath, column, empire. The bouquet toss, in which bride, now completed, predicts the next completion, eyes closed, back turned. There is nothing old. I am not a virgin. Who will help me dress? I have one mother and no father and one mother who was around once, for a while, then left. I do not have the parts.

Ok: the night before, take all the food out of your refrigerator—lentils, tomatoes, chocolate milk, chorizo, whatever—cook it and feast. Then, instead of washing the pots and pans and hanging them back on the wall, where they have always gone, take them out the front door and arrange them by the curb. If they ll with rain, your marriage will be happy and permanent.

If the wedding is foretold, it is therefore also only
a formality.

Like being announced as for the rst time. Of course
this is not the first time.

Last summer my mother said Weddings come and go.
Like it’s a rule—

Walking down the dark street beside you one night
my body blooms.

It opens. Just like that. Here’s a rule: true union always
exists before it occurs.

More Vows
When I am with you I feel
I am not just myself, but rather
double myself, my consciousness
laid out one on top of itself like
a double-yolked egg,
which is to say
I might therefore need
to vow myself to you. I love you
obsessively. I love you biologically.
I love you with sincere greed.
I am never doing this again.
Again, again.

Cover the walls with white sheets
and project Swedish pornography onto the ceiling.
As the night wears on, break potted plants open
and throw dirt everywhere, especially at your loved ones
—no. Rename everyone who walks through the door.
Their name is now George. Resurrect the great many misogynists
who bore that name. Invite only strangers. Serve only petit fours. No,
no: it is spring. Decorate with snow made of warm feathers,
order ice sculptures in the shapes of motorcycles
so the guests can ride, can feel the power
of a thousand pounds of frozen water
between their thighs! No! The theme
is Absolute Last Night On Earth.
At a party like that, you can’t come back
once you leave. Everyone knows it’s forever.
Which is the message you want to send. That’s it.
That’s the theme. Run with it! Run
with it. Cover the walls in butcher paper
and attach markers to the wall with festive ribbons
so your guests write their own epitaphs. This is the theme!
Bake it into a creatively-shaped cake and
smash it into your partner’s face like,
here, eat it.

And when we step off the porch, it is into
wet grass, the fireflies that never stop.

The columns of bodies holding sparklers.
Bodies which gave us life throwing rice.

The trail forward is laid out and well-marked,
even if it’s not clear why. Even if, in the end,

the police come and find us, finally see us,
tell us we’re illegal and take us in, violence,

the ground beneath our feet will swallow us.
The ground will swallow us tonight.

Standing in the darkness
in the middle of the room
you say, Well, can I take off my underwear?

And though I’m not there to see it
happen, in the church down the street
the mouths at the height of the organ

begin to flap airlessly, to soundlessly
yawp, into the dark emptiness over
the bodiless pews—yes. Yes.

January, After El Nino

Dear child, as I write this, it is raining
in a city where it never rains.
People drive quickly, sloppily, angrily.
Surging around corners,
where people leave the Metro bus.
Where someone pushes a shopping cart,
then yanks it back before a pickup rushes by.

In this rain, I wish
that you should never want to go outside.
That I could read you stories, make you soup.
I wish you would never outgrow this room,
forever watch Thomas the Train,
Spill your Rice Krispies, toss Fisher-Price blocks.

I hear another car door slam, another horn blare.
Someone yells faggot,
and I wish you would remain an infant,
tiny feet in drawstring booties, that I
could shield with arms and back from the storm
and whatever ill it brings. To this world,
in which I wish you might never be born,
not now, when water fills like hatred
in the cracks and potholes of the roads,
inciting the voices, the wheels,
the engines that assault them every day. I wish,
this body had never opened,

that this heart had never known love,
that instead of you, what falls from above
would find no one to endanger, no one to hunger,
no one to harm.

Ode to the Pantsuit

You thought yourself retired, lounging

unused in the back of 70s feminist closets

or retro thrift shop racks in all your iterations—

jackets, shoulder-padded, double-breasted, collars

sculpted into every shape of wing, embracing

your namesake boxy or slim-legged bottoms;

pantsuit, you thought your work was done.

You thought to retire, having served us well,

we women who donned you like armor

and strode proudly into spaces too spiked

for dresses, too fragile for the curve of leg

you held with such ease. You cloaked us

with con dence, the cape to every superheroine

wanting to kick in a glass ceiling. You

were the anti-cute, ‘unflattering’, a revolution

with functional pockets. Draped in you,

unladylike one, we slipped minds first

into a world that believed us hollow.

How you held our softness secret,

shielded our vulnerable with your badass.

Grab dflector. Pussy protector. Pantsuit,

you stayed with us, evolving as we did

into weaponized powersuited style,

blossoming into separates, daring silk camisoles,

frilled blouses, before long,

skirts. That must have been a blow,

but O pantsuit, you understood. Perhaps,

like so many of us you thought the battle over,

victory, if not immediate, at least inevitable;

we let our hems up, our guard down.

We believed you relic, symbolic, labeled

2016 the year of your resurrection;

we named you a nation, and ourselves

your ecstatic citizens. We pranced

our pantsuit joy. Perhaps, like some

of us, you always suspected this betrayal

—the quirky reenactment turned final battle,

the enemy returned hydra-headed, fanged,

and multitudinous, and you, sweet

suit, mere thread and dream against it.

Perhaps the two-pieced double consciousness

of you always knew you might not emerge

unbedraggled. Still, I salute you, pantsuit,

vow to dust the dirt from your war-worn seams,

pull you on, pull myself through: pantsuit up

and remember the truth we always knew—

you, pantsuit, are only as powerful

as the body that bears you.

Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Resistance is published by OR Books (£13)

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  • Read an extract from WOMEN OF RESISTANCE: POEMS FOR A NEW FEMINISM in The Big Issue - OR Books
    28 Mar 2018 13:45
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