Poetry Feature:

Because They Did

"Resolved in Lavender" Artist: Cheryl Yellowhawk

I do what I do / because they did what they did. -- Enid Dame
 
 

Poetry Feature:

"Because They Did"

Editorial Preface:
Scraps of History
by Nicholas Johnson
Senior Poetry Editor

Women's Poetry Anthology (a poem)
(for S.P.)
Enid Dame

Introduction by Mary Biggs

After words begin to flow
Madeline Tiger

What the Turtle Sings
Lois Marie Harrod

Dovey
Lynn Strongin

One Blue Number
Lynn Strongin

The Late Lighthouse Keeperís Wife Stays on to Tend the Light
Madeline Marcotte

Descent to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse
Jenny Factor

Eurydiceís Version
Betty Lies

Shivaís Six Faces Listed by His Wife Parvati
Reetika Vazirani

What Her Girlfriend Said
Reetika Vazirani

Large Reclining Nude
Lois Marie Harrod

Moon Belly
Donna M. Nicolino

These are the Pains of Roses
Robin Lim

Left Hand
Margo Berdeshevsky

The Town Clock
Caree Connet
(for Robin Lim)

what I will carry to my grave
Jody Aliesan

thatís who I am, I thought
(12 years old: 1955)
Jody Aliesan

Being a Dyke in Your 40ís in the 90ís
Chocolate Waters

On Lesbian Writing
Eloise Klein Healy

Genderline
(for Nancy)
Jenny Factor

Notes from the Other Side
(for Rachel)
Jenny Factor

Eutrophic
Jan Clausen

Rue des ...couffes

Les scandaleuses

Les scandaleuses II

Nulle part

A sonnet cycle by
Marilyn Hacker

Day of Atonement
Jacqueline Lapidus

The Seder Plate
Martha Shelley

Cin...ma V...rit...
Jan Clausen

The Women Always Wave the Flags
Donna Allegra
 
 

Editorial Preface:

Scraps of History

By the late 60's, the social pendulum was swinging wide toward an end to the world as we knew it. We were glad; we wanted it to be different. What's more, we didn't have to stop at simply imagining the revolution; we could make it happen: "Power to the people!--and don't trust anybody over 30." The times, they were achangin', even as the Establishment frantically signed for an outspoken Silent Majority.

If the decade began with a broad civic challenge ("Ask not what your country . . . "), it ended with broad civil defiance ("Hell, no! We won't go!"). By then, fundamentally altered perceptions of human rights and individual autonomy had forced amendments to the social contract and to the Constitution: "Black is beautiful" (Civil Rights Act, 1964; poll tax repealed, 24th Amendment, 1964); "right of privacy," "sexual revolution" (contraceptives decriminalized: Griswald v. Connecticut, 1965); "Miranda rights" (arrestee silence warning: Miranda v. Arizona, 1966); "Equal pay for equal work" (unratified Amendment); "Too young to vote, old enough to kill" (reduction of voting age to 18, 26th Amendment, 1971); "a woman's right to choose" (abortion legalized: Roe v. Wade, 1973).

These catchphrases are chronicled in the literature, art, songs, essays, poems, movies, novels, and news accounts of the time. Drained historical rhetoric now, but supercharged then, they floodlit the national debate in 1968 when the electorate--never again so bitterly divided until this past November--delivered Republican Richard Nixon ("peace with honor"; Watergate; China) a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey (Civil Rights Act; Peace Corps; Medicare). "Love it or leave it." Many of us did.

The Women's Movement played a crucial role in this real-life drama, aided by suffragette ancestors and abetted by feminist male peers resolute in the shared conviction that gender equality was a fact of life, not paper. Women's rights were part and parcel of human rights, their right to choose the sine qua non of individual autonomy.

Enid Dame's opening poem in our "Because They Did" feature, compiled and introduced by scholar Mary Biggs, is more than a catalogue of what happened and of what they did toinfluence those events. Its range, from humorous enumeration to serious tribute, cannot be dismissed, however incremental their advances might appear to us now.

It is also clear that women's issues are multicultural, as seen in the work of Reetika Vazirani and Martha Shelley. Chocolate Waters's piece is the best example of the outrageous, while lyric intensity drives Madeline Tiger's "after words begin to flow" and Jenny Factor's "Genderline." Marilyn Hacker helped keep the sonnet alive and well during all the years it seemed to have gone underground.

As Ms. Biggs points out in her introduction, the social pendulum has swung back the other way. A sad fact, yet theirs was no empty gesture, as you can tell by reading this collection: "The women always wave the flags"--until they wave by themselves.

--Nicholas Johnson

Senior Poetry Editor
 
 

Womenís Poetry Anthology (a poem)
(for S.P.)
Enid Dame

Two women in this anthology
slept with my husband
before I knew him.
Three women in this anthology
were politically active.
Four women in this anthology
wrote love poems to women.
Two women in this anthology
wrote of the Great Mothers:
Gertrude Virginia Colette.
Ten women in this anthology
were in touch with their anger.
Six women in this anthology
wrote of the moon.

Today it is rumored:
three women in this anthology
have gone into business,
six have gone on to raise families.
Seven are dead.
Many still call themselves feminists.
Some still call themselves poets.

I scan these pages,
these valuable scraps of history,
for the second time,
as if this book were a journal I could have written, then
as if it contains a clue,
something I need to know.

How brave they were
in those early days of the movement!
when it was daring to say "breast,"
earth-smashing to say "clitoris,"
to bring a vagina into a poem,
to bring a woman onto a stage into a book,
to say, "She belongs there.
We need to hear
what she needs to say."

How brave we all were
in those days when everything was fluid:
the poets on the stage those outspoken younger women
the women in the audience
(our own young poems
starting to scratch in our minds),
the women outside standing with their petitions
to open a health clinic abolish sexism
start a new magazine
march on Washington
end a war.

I read this book
this collection of poems quilted pieces
from all those brave early readings
today, on a bus, going back to their city
in another, harder time
at the narrowing edge of the century.
I, who call myself feminist
poet (sometimes) activist

I do what I do
because they did what they did.

(First pub.: ZZZ Zyne, emphasis supplied.)
 
 

"Because They Did "

Compiled and introduced by Mary Biggs
 
 

Who "they" were and where we found them

For those of us pacing our way into womanhood to the beat of the "Second Wave" feminist movement, they were our superiors in years (though seldom by more than a decade) or simply in self-awareness, impatience, vigor, verve. Talent, often. Courage, always. We read everything they wrote that we could find and quoted them, revered them, developed long-distance crushes on them, platonic or erotic.

To learn of a new womenís literary magazine was to subscribe to it (if you could afford to), or share a subscription (if anyone you knew could afford to), or buy or just browse an issue at the nearest womenís bookstore, read it standing in the aisle in your tie-dyes, work denims or kick-ass T-shirt. Always, there were thrilling discoveries in those pages. You just couldnít believe that a woman was saying those things (about men, marriage, motherhood, sex, love, work, family, pain) you'd always felt but thought you had to conceal; or shouting them, so that you suddenly knew or understood--with a jolt--for the first time. You'd snap the magazine shut for a second, finger holding the place, until you'd recomposed yourself--and go on reading.

The first magazine was the brave and improbable Ladder, a lesbian publication founded in the grim Fifties, ten years before NOW, edited and often written pseudonymously. Elizabeth Fisherís Aphra followed in 1964, and within a few years there were more, many more. Every reader had her favorites. I remember Amazon Quarterly most fondly; and 13th Moon, Chrysalis, Calyx, Sinister Wisdom, Conditions--I never missed an issue. Today, only Calyx survives.

Equally important were self-published books, sole or collective ventures supported by innumerable hours of unpaid labor, meager grants, cranky machines, cold coffee, and tiny livingrooms converted to workrooms, bedrooms to storerooms, and personal cars to delivery trucks. They had great names (Diana, Persephone, Eggplant, and Kitchen Table; Out & Out Books, Long Haul, Lavender, and Shameless Hussy) and cost a buck or two, rarely as much as five, for volumes of poetry that could and did change lives.

The books too were carried only by womenís bookstores. Crowded, shabby, and borderline insolvent, they were beloved centers of community and counterculture. I constantly visited a little shop in Buffalo called "Emma." (Goldman or Woodhouse? I asked once, and they said, both). In Chicago, I went to the Jane Addams Bookstore and to Women & Children First. During my rare trips to Manhattan, I visited Womanbooks on the Upper West Side. There was always a wealth of material to read and sometimes home-baked, too-healthful snacks to eat. I often found a poetry reading in progress, and at least a few likeminded people, mostly women, but sometimes men as well.

We loved those bookstores and considered them indispensable. Eventually, they closed--one by one, year by year--and were replaced by new. In Manhattan, for instance, we have Bluestockings on Canal Street and the woman-run Three Lives in Greenwich Village. These are less expressly feminist or stock little poetry. So it seems. But perhaps it's simply that Iíve grown older and they donít feel like mine. When I periodically browse the "Womenís Studies" section at Barnes & Noble, Iím suffused with a strange blend of boredom, anger, and nostalgia. I leave without buying.
 
 

For women, poetry is not a luxury. -- Audre Lorde

Years after the first billows of the Second Wave had stilled, Jan Clausen aptly described it as "a movement of poets." The political and poetic were conjoined, each enriching and furthering the other. Women have been acknowledged for their achievements in public policy, in business and in the professions. They have expanded their personal options and led real lives. Yet, while their literary achievements have been equally impressive, these are seldom remarked.

As the magazines and books came spilling forth--sometimes literally overflowing the storesí limited shelf space--and public readings (sometimes mobbed) proliferated at coffee shops, community centers, churches, and libraries, it became clear which poets deserved oblivion and which uttered a music and a wisdom that would endure. The feminist poetry movement was as culturally significant as the male-dominated American literary movements--the Fugitive Poets, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beats--that have drawn much more critical attention.

The "mothers" (though not progenitors) were the lesbian feminists Adrienne Rich, born in 1929 and an established poet since the Fifties, and Audre Lorde, born in Harlem in 1934. Lorde was as much concerned with race, poverty, and the fate of children as with sex and sexuality; all of those issues were integrated in her mind and in her poems. In an essay first published in Chrysalis, Lorde defended poetry against activistsí charges that it was frivolous, that a poetís time might better be spent on the barricades. She wrote:

For women, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. If Rich and Lorde were the mothers, most of the irrepressible elder sisters were born in the Forties and had broken into print by the early Seventies. Susan Griffin, alta, and Judy Grahn were living on the West Coast. To my mind, Grahn's autobiographical narrative, "A Woman is Talking to Death," is the single most important feminist poem. Denver had the furious, hilarious, cocky Chocolate Waters. In the East, there was Olga Broumas and also Fran Winant, whose defiant little chapbooks were partly typewritten, partly hand-drawn. Ellen Marie Bissert, the founder of 13th Moon, and a Catholic, dared to entitle her self-published book The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Dyke.
 
 

I want a women's revolution like a lover. -- Robin Morgan

Then there were the activists, who protested war, sexism, homophobia. At first, they seemed to be poets only incidentally, but they became poets first and foremost. Marge Piercy was one. The incomparable Robin Morgan was everywhere at once: besieging a Miss America pageant, "hexing" capitalism, speaking and demonstrating in support of every progressive issue and cause, editing Sisterhood is Powerful!, the 1970 collection of essays and poems, among them, the iconic "Monster," which virtually defined the scope of early feminism. In it she captured the combustible, oddly erotic mix of anger, passion, joy, and naïve persistence that fueled the movement, generated its power.

"I want a womenís revolution like a lover," Morgan said. "I lust for it, I want so much this freedom." All over America, women chanted her lines, and emblazoned them on the T-shirts they wore to the bookstores, where they read the magazines, chapbooks, and the seminal anthologies compiled by women of women's work: Elly Bulkin and Joan Larkin (Amazon Poetry); alta (Remember Our Fire); Elaine Gill (Mountain Moving Day); Patricia Spears Jones, Sara Miles, Fay Chiang, and Sandra Maria Esteves (Ordinary Women/Las Mujeres Comunes--the first multiracial venture); Barbara Smith (Conditions V and Home Girls).

A memoir, and now I must answer the question implied by its nostalgic tone. Feminist publishers have dwindled, bookstores have closed, magazines have issued their final numbers, the victims of success, co-optation, or deceit (depending on your point of view). They were starved out when Reaganesque greed transformed national values, and arts-publishing subsidies--always pitifully few and small--vanished altogether. They died with scarcely a rustled page, as women wearied of unpaid overwork and began to see the appeal of paying bills on time, raising children, and relaxing occasionally.
 
 

The night's first women come in out of the rain. -- Marilyn Hacker

Is feminist poetry dead? No! That answer is evidenced by the twenty-nine poems here and by the huge heap of other ones that I would have wanted to include and couldnít. Even virtual space is not infinite.

We have lost some of the poets we loved, Audre Lorde among them. Some have fallen silent. (Surely, it's more difficult to publish now.) However, most survived and never stopped writing. They appear alongside lesser-known poets who are quite ready to call themselves "feminist," giving the lie to the presumed complacency of youth. In fact, they cannot imagine calling themselves anything else.

"Because They Did" includes many of the original They, represented here with recent work. Lynn Strongin and Martha Shelley are two of the few poets who appeared in Sisterhood is Powerful! Marilyn Hacker is here, a celebrated poet and inexhaustibly generous promoter of other womenís work. Jan Clausen, cofounder of Conditions and a critic and memoirist of the movement, joins others who have been with us since the beginning: Jody Aliesan, Donna Allegra, Enid Dame, Eloise Klein Healy, Jacqueline Lapidus, Madeline Tiger, Chocolate Waters.

Others, of roughly the same generation, have spent years teaching, raising families, quietly living their feminism, and building regional reputations as poets. Two of these are Lois Marie Harrod and Betty Lies.

You will also find seven fascinating new writers here--new to me, at least, though perhaps not to you: Margo Berdeshevsky, Caree Connet, Jenny Factor, Robin Lim, Madeline Marcotte, Donna M. Nicolino, and Reetika Vazirani. Connecting personally with poets whose work Iíve read for decades was a thrill, but reading the work of these seven poets for the very first time has been my greatest joy in the experience of compiling this collection.

Thanks go to the editors of nycBigCityLit.com for inviting this collection and to Santa Fe artist, Cheryl Yellowhawk, for her hand-executed image, "Resolved in Lavender." Just so.

Mary Biggs

mbiggs@tcnj.edu
 
 

Poetry Selections

After words begin to flow
Madeline Tiger

you may want to fondle your pencil
or, if you are the hurried type, rush
onto the keyboard, entertain a program
and line up fonts for the arrival.
The writing may slosh and slur as you
try to navigate the swells. Let it hold its own
lines, let it find its starboard and port, but
be firm. Guide (blindly). The prow will lead into
something you may already know by the
poemís listing. May the wake be your
furrowed hollow, followed by gull cry.
 
 

What the Turtle Sings
Lois Marie Harrod

He does not sing
to get himself
to the other side of the road
for he is not a bird
nor does he croon
a song easy to dance
but imagines
heavy clogs,
one for each foot

as he plods to that place
where he began,
ferns and gravity.

He has a note
for each drop of rain
falling on his back

like an acorn falling
or a child clicking
a metallic pen.

He knows that
what stops the rain
gives it sound.

It is the song of solitude
which is one half
of the song of love.

The turtle sings
the spaces
between the grass

and the tenor hollows
of earthworms and white grubs
the length of a spoon.

(Prior pub. Salt Hill)
 
 

Dovey
Lynn Strongin

Rhymes with Cove.

The love

began in this wat'ry
birdy
world.

They said a harmonic conversion was going on.
Nobody in the family was well.
I, too, was hacking it as a human

polishing the lamp of memory nightly.
Then lightly
one night, I slipt out of my bones.

***

A blinding white seagull feather
had cut
my eyeball like glass early in the evening, over white wine:

I went down to the beach,
to discover this strange heap
asleep, breathing, yes, a she, & breathing

in a den as snug as a sweet potato hull:
living under a windblown-log
muttering, "Welcome. Not many bear the ocean

Twelve months a year.
They love her in summer. Less in autumn. Fear her teeth
in winter. Wind in the rigging. They thought Iíd gone clear out

of my skull
but Iíd gone clear in."

Dovey tells me, while the last ducks tell their young
bedtime stories--not nightmarish ones--
but duckling ones, whispered into my ear, as into eiderdown.
 
 

One Blue Number
Lynn Strongin

shivering
by the pool
one child wrapped in crocus blue towels.

Moving her hands
spinning blue wool, then tucking them back.
Color of upturned rowboat.

Lips
stuttering.
Indigo-bunting.

November breathing
is blue as a passport
or airletters to Rome.

Warnings, like blue foghorns
piercing
waves, those white bleating lambs.

Purple as hogís breath
marbleheads for storm
break beyond her, beyond the pool,

but the report
returns:
here, the center. This, the breather.

While beating beside her
early or late
the encased flood of a ruby hummingbirdís throat.

From numbness to sensate white,
I watched the air begin to light.
 
 

The Late Lighthouse Keeperís Wife Stays on to Tend the Light
Madeline Marcotte

If there had been fruit enough
wrung from the limbs of the twisted
pear tree for both of us,
the world as it ought to be, ought to be (....)

O any Eden in a storm. The one hundred
ninety-nine steps that lead to the lens are tiring.
The light still confuses the birds.
Now youíre gone and canít slap her hand--

filthy birds--our daughter collects them,
wraps them in burlap,
a handful of dandelions tossed in
like electric light bulbs to light their way,

and walks them over to Petermanís house
who paints them back alive.
She holds the wings out for him for hours.
Maybe he loves her. Maybe he draws instead

her wings brown and tipped in white as if she is a silly bird
who let her sleeves slip into his palette.
Maybe he lifts her hair with the delicate boredom
of his perfection and paints her neck in metallic

green and blue, the male colors of the mallard, saying
into her ear, Itís art, be still.
The ocean is quiet, mirror quiet.
Quiet as a mirrorís black back.

The world is as it was my dear.
The gears precisely click.
The trolley clangs, a dullard boards.
 
 

Descent to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse
Jenny Factor

Wedded less
to a husband than to this
long habit of checked wistfulness,

she descends
the three hundred steps
leaning her body into the wind.

Wind on the promontory,
wind, wind, the shore made sorry
and the land, and the sea, twisted with worry

so that no jacket,
no scarf, no tourist racket,
can keep the wind out of the place fearís packed in.

Moaning timber.
The sea cliffs shudder,
the eerie hummed lines of telephone wires.

Iceplant and poppy
on the hill are dripping
with spray, yet, seem brightly happy

like those other
people hurrying down, the lovers,
the mother keeping her small boys from pushing each other,

the wide Midwesterners,
even-tempered as cows, the Easter
vacation crowd from some school with a Pastor.

At the bottom stair
is the wide point where
red flags and sea breakers say "Beware."

On the spit,
the lighthouse sits,
battered by Pacific salts.

The high tower
lifts, presiding over
that margin where the sea wields its power.

Inside, a wall
mural tells the long tale
of the man who tended the lighthouse through squalls

and storm,
sending the pale warning
into months of chilly winter mornings

lacking food,
lacking comfort, short on wood,
with no company except the chaos, he brooded

and wrote
his diary notes.
Got madder and stranger, got

remembered
by the lovers, their finger-
knotted hands holding everything together,

reading,
his wall, standing,
laughing at the quotes she could be writing

herself. Better,
the girl in a green sweater
hair short as a boyís, who smiles past her.

So she climbs
the lighthouse tower, finds
the windy skirt where sound gives way to silence, time,

the wind,
the sea breakers. Pinned
to the frame of the tower, she owns her sins,

she thinks,
How weak, how tireless
is that circling light, enduring its loneliness.

Then a bell
sends its wail
out of the windy place itís settled.

till from the sea,
a shipís horn sounds brightly
to She Who Stays from She Who Totters Free.

Beyond the lip
of railing, the cliffs
shimmer, the sun glints

off all she sees.
Every choice bobs up like buoys,
dips and churns, rebounds, runs free

out into the
tumbling, icy
grasping reach of sea, sea, sea.
 
 

Eurydiceís Version
Betty Lies

Every girl dreams about a man like that,
not handsome merely, all-around,
an athlete, stars in his own band--
the whole townís hero, might be half a god,

aloof--then, just one look at you
and heís a goner! Suddenly youíve got
his letter sweater or his ring,
you stand to watch him, glowing in his light,

and everybody hangs on him,
they worship him, your dog,
your grandmother, your friends
would die to take your place.

Whatís more, this man adores you
to the point of madness, there is nothing
he wonít do for you. Heíd
go through hell for you.

And still, somehow it all ends up
his story, a tale of skill and daring,
what he did for you
and how he did it,

what he saw and what he said.
At last it hardly matters
how you came to be
among the shades,

you limp out when youíre called
to take your place and follow
his shadow through the dark.
Then he turns around.

This is the part your mother never
told you, nobody seemed to know.
Itís not all perfect,
being loved so much.
 
 

Shivaís Six Faces Listed by His Wife Parvati
Reetika Vazirani

one face you undress me
one face you see the other
you remember former lovers
one face you enter me
one face you want three girls on you
you leave me three forevers

eon age year you create to keep me waiting
verse says I waited at the lighthouses of Hatteras
verse says I grew my hair
waited tables for a song
verse says I knitted a shroud by day
could not vote or choose my bodyís drama
I am waiting in a waiting room to see the lawyer who wonít see me
verse says you wouldnít even fuck me
so singlehandedly I made my daughter rise out of mud
had a headless son who had to wait till you crowned him an elephant
verse says I was not a single parent but I was

then I remember all six faces
especially the night you undressed me
had me
wrote a hundred verses to my eyelash holding the raindrop
which fell to my lower lip
rolling down my aam-ripe breasts
smarting with your nailmarks
down my three folds
deep into my navel where you looked
for my face
& found all sanskrit verse untucked there
love-in-enjoyment I had time and again

but not-with-you god not-with-you
when all along Iíd never waited
alertly facing love in the wide world

("Aam": Hindi for " mango.")
 
 

What Her Girlfriend Said
Reetika Vazirani

finding me limp & out of the world
of words my friend said Lata
this is bull to let your moods rule
first things first
he passed by your room
stared at you
tried to carry the scent of who you are
back to his pavilion in the galaxy
where his efforts to repaint you
have you written of rhymed to
sculpted flung into song
etched on porcelain
carved in gold
are merely estimations
 


Large Reclining Nude
Lois Marie Harrod

I said to him I said
why did you make me so big
and why did you make
the white bedspread
look like a black and white
tiled floor, do you want
people to think I let you take
me in the kitchen, you know
there is no way I could fit
between the refrigerator
and the sink, there
just isnít enough room there
to jam me, the size of that body,
and he said,
sometimes you seem
that big to me.
(Prior pub. in Mid-America Poetry Review)
 
 

Moon Belly
Donna M. Nicolino

Slung from hip bone to hip bone,
under my navel and above dark curls,
a soft crescent of roundness thatís new.
"Donít let yourself go," my mother warns,
but I smile at the reflection, riper than
the skinny girl itís replaced. Iíd like
to go shirtless in the summer,
pale breasts growing pink then brown
in the sun.

In the hot tub with female friends
Iím taken by how different we are. I love
womenís bodies, each beautiful in its way:
a warm abundance of flesh, a small and
perfect breast, skin the color of cinnamon.

I love to see people working outside in
dirty clothes. The radiance of a face that
loves the open sky, that isnít shy about sweat.
Muscles from work. Calluses.

I love my loverís body, his flavor, the always-startling

smoothness of his skin and the warm colors of him:
charcoal and chocolate, wheat and plum. That he loves
my smell; lays his forehead to my shoulder and inhales
with eyes closed. The essence of bodies clinging to cloth.
Alone on my bed, pressing his borrowed sweatshirt to my face.

Itís a blessing to have a body, lay between
flannel sheets in November with a cat snuggled
warm to my neck and stroke the tender instep
of one foot with the toes of the other,
feeling my skin glide over skin.
 
 

These are the Pains of Roses
Robin Lim

Waiting woman
face hovering like an overripe moon.
Sky narrowing to
a star-gate tonight.
The midwifeís hands are paired
owlís wings protecting your harvest
of hormones, and foolish love.

Shed pride.
Be taken apart utterly.
Be afraid as each new mother has been,
since love invented sex.
For this travail even courage must be cast off,
as you will throw away clothing, shame.

These are the pains of roses.
You will be ashes
before your work is done.
Your heart will break forever
on the shore of a life
you evict tonight.

(Prior pub. in Midwifery Today)
 
 

Left Hand
Margo Berdeshevsky

Not Michael, nor Uriel, not any of the archangels tend, and I unlearn
which is light or fire to cling to - and the fig is burned - curled leaves
like club-feet, now, where bare winds snapped my garden-seraph's
clay pinions, at her roots. Nude shouldered, she meets me, overturned.

After one more storm, wingless, still cradling the small loam robin
in her palm, and I must glue her, no great ones protected this small one,
no "lo, though I walk" . . . no "for Thou art with me" . . .

Cutting flowers, the house too somber, the winter wait too long,
the shears slip, blood paints its first frightened green. I acquiesce
with a single hand. Broken-winged, she reminds how the winter,

how I have wished for guards these damaged days, willed
unweighted wings, and in this home develop only patience, and an ear
cocked for harps in a land where drums are the instruments of choice.

Elsewhere, the city - minion strolls, sharp faced, short cropped, careful
left hand cupped like the gentlest claw. All day she carries an infant dove,
adopted mother. . . . found this, at an old tree's base, she chants,

in monk's tone three-tiered chorded-notes, vibrato of the heard-unheard.
And I lean, and I listen. Oh, she incants, just when I thought I had lost my
healer's hand, three warbled notes in one, this fledgling from a tumbled
nest this ward of the cold ground mine to lift, attend, all
humbled of the valley. . . oh . . .

Home, in morning's apologia, with my left hand, mend.
White glue stains these untrained fingers.
Where wings were, scabs, in the clay.
Yet my garden will have its partisan
for this night's raging right hand,
these are the days, these are the darks, certain, havoc wind.

(Prior pub. Angel Heirs, Half Angel Press, Maui)
 
 

The Town Clock
Caree Connet
(for Robin Lim)

She was too poor to buy a clock, so when the baby woke to nurse,
sheíd roll over on hip bruises made by the oak floor
pressing through their thin army blanket mattress--waiting
for the chiming of the courthouse clock to break
darkness into segments short enough to promise light.

Through the window she could make out one of the four faces
above the leafless limbs of trees, like a friendly ghost
beyond the tracks that split the town in half,
a pair of arabesque hands falling in a never-ending circle--
apart, together.

Like clockwork the coal train woke her, shaking
the oak planks, the plaster, the narrow panes
so hard she was sure the house would crack and crumble.
It took the prodding of the bronze bell in the red granite tower
to comfort her back to sleep.

Sometimes other babies woke her. She caught them
as they fell out of the dark tunnel.
Halfway between wife and angel,
midwife, kneeling between sleeping deities
and the crashing, swarming world.

Often, the nightmare woke her. The frozen
tableau of gossiping neighbors,
sleeping dogs on the hot blacktop,
the untimely truck, the boy on a bike
in midair, throwing her baby to his father, running to catch

a six-year-old falling from the sky,
her brown hands reaching for noon or midnight,
the wind of his body grazing her breasts,

crumpling, no blood, his beautiful face looking up at her,
then

closing his eyes
as she kneels to hold him,
everyone frozen in a circle around the Pietà,
except the boyís mother,
running in a white bathrobe, not knowing.

The clockís hands stopped moving when she moved away,
each pair frozen in a pleading position.
What if she had run faster?
What if she could reverse time?
Or was she already too late?

When she moved back to the town,
the silence woke her.
It woke the man with black fingernails
fleeing a ghost in the moon. He could fix anything broken--
almost anything. He volunteered to climb the fragile iron ladder

into midair--more than once. A miracle
for a woman afraid of falling
He saved the town clock.
The bell tolled, the hands moved in pairs,
all the faces lit up.
 
 

what I will carry to my grave
Jody Aliesan

i.

the sight of

so soon after surgeons
pinned her crumbled bones together

so soon
after she risked the yellow light
drove helplessly into the side
of the metal flesh anticipating green

lying in a net of
clear liquids gases in transparent lines
under a sheen of tears beyond sedation

my mother
opening her mouth
for a great exploding flower of blood

slow motion petals hanging falling shining
on the white towels white sheets

the pressure of small drops flung
spattering across my chest

her salt spray in my face
 
 

ii.

leaning into her with towels
glancing back at the doctor
rooted at the foot of the bed
his eyes wide open I said
we need help he ran out of the room

it was important to clean her face
wipe blood out of every crevice
so that whatever happened next
she would be ready

it seemed I was washing
the bruised landscape of her countenance
for a very long time until
the rustling of clothing surrounded us

an office of pure prayer
simple beyond identity
turn then O gracious advocate
thine eyes of mercy toward us

here the mother here the daughter
trading places in the house of life
as was done in the beginning
and has been done since the beginning
of us all
 
 

thatís who I am, I thought
(12 years old: 1955)
Jody Aliesan

i.

that woman on the street
walking at ease loose
in workshirt cuffed up to her elbows
and time-softened jeans
cupping in small folds her alert
unconscious thighs not aware

I was watching her out the side
window as we passed staring back
as long as I could still make out that
stride so contained competent content
assured as a cat

turning back to my little brother
playing beside me on the back seat I see
my motherís eyes in the rear view mirror
noticing that I realize
she watched me watch
that woman

they widen
focus
and look away
 
 

ii.

we would tell them we were off
to the movies my schoolchum and I

but instead we climbed sand dunes
collapsing steps through iceweed

up bluffs to the beach shack
candlelight in the windows

shadows moving beat of small drums
slipped in the door to smoke conversation

black and white people dressed in black
drinking coffee shouting poems

and in one corner set up on milkcrates
with her steel string guitar and a mike

this husky-throated seen-it-all
dyke rolled out velvet blues

she was all we had to drink
our mouths wide open
 
 

Being a Dyke in Your 40ís in the 90ís
Chocolate Waters

Whatever you say
has already been said,
sung, published.
Probably by your friends.
Probably by Macmillan.
Probably by you.
Listen to younger women friends
argue theyíre not feminists.
Probably because of you
and your friends.
Try to go straight,
love a man.
Realize how selfish and antisocial
you are because you canít.
Watch your men friends die
because they could.
Try to raise a family with another woman,
live in society with a child created
by a turkey baster.
Try to eat pussy
through a two-foot-thick dental dam.
Go ahead.
Cut out the picture of Cindy Crawford
shaving k.d. lang
in a barberís chair
on the cover of Vanity Fair and
hang it on your fridge with
a Marilyn Monroe magnet.
Consider this
progress.
 

(Prior pub.: Libido)
 
 

On Lesbian Writing
Eloise Klein Healy

In the interests of examining the connection

to the lives we are living we must ask does the bond run in the blood or is it as some believe directed by the power of the moon or as others say by the power a woman effects on your angle of vision but of course some donít bother to say to didnít say but even in casual photos the distinctive tilt of the chin speaks volumes and the incredible glance that lives on in the one standing next to you who has as well included as a personal style just the most impossible shading of arrogance which indicates and welcomes an understanding that goes beyond cultural boundaries as when the lights go off and one fingertip after another gauges the dimensions of sensation on the surface of the naked skin or under cloth or leather or beaded and gathered stuff arranged ever so wonderfully you canít believe in looking at the photographs and the paintings that nobody thought anything of the display and took no opportunity to comment on the distinctive manner of ornamentation and posture which acts almost but not quite as an affront to the received and applied rules of behavior while making a territory alongside of or just out of reach of the norm in which she and whomever she wanted to be with simply blossomed
 
 

Genderline
(for Nancy)
Jenny Factor

Love, the diaperís changed, my son is sleeping.
Our knees are touching, jeaned thigh to jeaned thigh.
Snowís through the picture window, and your eyes
glint in candlelight, grow wide with listening.
The heater knocks. Your alto voice droops downward:
then woolís in fingers, warm cheekís on smooth neck.
A naughty hintís left of your cigarette,
as kisses tumble into me like words. Iíve heard
"Love poems are too hard to write:
The taleís all told." Perhaps. But if thatís right,
and there is nothing new to us (except
for me) first feeling breasts against my breasts,
your small, dry hands, your laugh, our jive:
thereís my mind whirring, my skin singing
my blood beating: alive, alive.
 
 

Notes from the Other Side
(for Rachel)
Jenny Factor

pray that what weíre running from is worthy of this running.
pray that what weíre running toward is what we want Ö
lucille clifton

Knotted as the
hands of prayer, we
rode the uptown

down where we
stood near, near waiting the rough
and tumble let-down

in the Bowery. Iíve heard,
any woman happy
in the a.m. was

suicidal the day
before, depression
making the only

opening. But I was
already breathing
out air I carved

for myself
mole tunnel light, when
you came &

laughed us into
mauve
halter tops, breasts

popping up through
spandex with all
the helpless

energy of crocuses.
Blades along the river,
steady contact

of wheels. City Spring.
Estival. In that
strange restaurant, La Nouvelle

Justine,
a blond, pinned
herself

to the wall, banded
blind with silky
un-being, as friends

fingered and rolled
her bared hillsides,
nipples plucked up,

as new eyes,
her nude backside, feathered
paddled waves

on a shore, together
in the share of
damped chasm

its drugged liquid
silver in our veins. We
wandered home,

rod-taut
to expectancy, near-
not-near,

reciting Poetry
on the edge of doing, doing,
Sex is not

the only reason
to live a life,
or leave one, or change one.

You and I,
love,
are old friends

who bring each other
to the verge
but never over. Moses

looking down
into some Promised Land,
pregnant on

death or chrysalis,
an expectancy
un-looked for

as is Joy.
Engendering tender,
tendered, gendered,

sun-swallowed
and rising, in the next
dawn, Kissed Fingers,

you were gone. But
I own Manhattan. I am
roughly the size of a

skyscraper.
Liberty kneels
at my feet.
 
 

Eutrophic
Jan Clausen

Supinely on the go. --William Gass

I thought of her while swimming
in Guilders Pond last year,
cupped in Berkshire elevation,
stunted reach of conifer.
Guilders is only a granite dimple
though quite lakelike to the eye,
bottom-clogged with vegetation,
ankle-deep in velvet slime.

Wet weeds pursue by increments
their fragile enterprise.

Those pond plants know their limits;
theyíre not going anywhere,
just transforming seas to solids
over geologic time,
but as I lay in summer fluid
face to face with changing sky,
I felt them contemplate relation,
meekly groping to ensnare.

Wet weeds pursue by increments
their selfless enterprise.

Ruthless, I retreated
but Iím never in the clear.
Vague, wistful weeds! --
they break my heart.
When did I know I was
out of my depth in shallows?
If only she could have been
selfish. Separate.

Wet weeds pursue by increments
their fathomless enterprise.
 
 

Sonnet Cycle
Marilyn Hacker

Rue des ...couffes

The street is narrow, and it just extends
rue de Rivoli / rue des Rosiers
a street from which the children went away
clutching their mothers, looking for their friends--
on city buses used for other end
one not-yet-humid morning in July.
Now kosher butchers co-exist with gay
boutiques, not gaily. Smooth-cheeked ephebes hold hands.
Small boys with forelocks trail after bearded men--
and I have dragged that story in again
and will inevitably next compare
the curtains of the creaky balcony
smelling of female exile, exhaled prayer
with the discreet shutters of the womenís bar.
 
 

Les scandaleuses
(for M.G.H.)

Hung on the exposed brown stone of barís
back wall, words and collage on aquarelle
metaphor a landscape or a well-
traveled sky, thigh, eye with a view of stars:
her latest work. A child between two wars,
she learned her own vision from the salty squall
of Norman winters, learned what she couldnít tell
except with brush, chalk, pencil, engraverís
stylus and blade, with ink spilled on a stone
as the sea spills up and over the stones when the tide
comes in. Leather jacket, cap, she stands, briefly alone
at the bar with a glass of wine, her Celtic moon-
stone eyes as light and dark as the shapes she made
while the nightís first women come in out of the rain.
 
 

Les scandeleuses II

The nightís first women come in out of the rain:
two couples who arrived, enlaced, astride
two motorcycles, pulled up just outside
the door, doff helmets and leather, order gin/
tonic, beer, beer, a kir. From the bar, they crane
their necks toward the row of dreams, mindscapes, implied
back roads theyíre too young to have traveled; slide
closer together, wanting things to begin.
Watching, she doesnít envy them their youth,
their way of being in a pack, in pairs
(wounds inflicted, in the name of "truth,"
on friends, near-infidelities on stairs).
But the lacework beginning near that oneís mouth
is elegant: Engraverís grooves. Soft dares.
 
 

Nulle part

The elegant engraverís grooves: soft dares
to follow down to the glass-roofed quai, embark
on the last trainís last car hurtling through the dark
tunnel irregularly blazed with flares
alizarin, viridian. Lit by the glareís
a silhouette, androgynous, at work
setting (in Paris? London? Prague? New York?)
mosaic tiles. She leads you up spiral stairs
into the blue explosion of the airís
matinal brilliance. But she disappears--
avid flesh, mercurial avatar
desire or imagination sends?
And then you know exactly where you are:
the street is narrow; you see where it ends.

(Prior pub.: Massachusetts Review)
 
 

Day of Atonement
Jacqueline Lapidus

Chants from my childhood send a prayer
into New England autumn air
as we slide along the chapel pew
whispering where are we?
My ex-belovedís curly head,
so much like mine, is searching, bowed
over Hebrew text she cannot read,
praying beside me for the Jew-
ish father she never knew
and I, though equally at sea,
suddenly remember the melody
and sing out. Thirty years ago
this ardent gathering of women
would not have been acknowledged minyan,
let alone a congregation
sprinkled with visiting fathers;
now the Rule of the Universe
is God, is One, but rarely He!
The smiling rabbi, pocket-size
in her white robe and tallis,
explains the Amidah in English;
she wasnít even born when I refused
bat-Mitzvah. How could I have known?
In those days God spoke just to men.
What is it, then, that makes us Jews
if not the language, music, food,
fasting, ritual and choice?
My grandma would have loved her voice;
my grandpa, hardly orthodox,
would nonetheless have been confused.
O God of Sarah and Rebekah,
Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah,
Esther, Judith and Jael,
to be a Jew is to be real
in a world of indifference;
forgive us our subservience.
May all our actions speak thy love
through care for one another. Yet
our dead live on in us and move
us to truth. Hear, o people who struggle with God!
Shíma Yisrael, adonai elohenu, adonai echad.
 
 

The Seder Plate
Martha Shelley

Six items are traditionally present on the seder plate. Each has a meaning, but perhaps that significance had changed over the two millennia of our wanderings. Once we lived among the Persians, whose New Year falls at the spring equinox, who place six items on a special cloth, eat eggs and greens, and decorate the house with sprouting plants during this holiday season. The ancient Egyptians sprouted wheat in mummy-shaped planters to represent the resurrection of Osiris. And the Babylonian Osiris is Tammuz, whose month we celebrate in summer; we were captive in Babylon and adopted its calendar. Yet aside from the calendar, itís often impossible to tell which customs we learned from our neighbors, which they learned from us, and which have their roots in a common pagan past, a time before nations, before slavery and war.

First:

Karpas, parsley, celery,
we celebrate all green things
that spring from black earth
spring from long-awaited winter rains
green that splits granite
and thrusts up to suckle the sun.

Second:

Beitzah, the egg, the world egg, haíolam,
the endless beginning of life,
rich round of creation.
Why is it roasted in the oven?

the rabbis say, it stands for the sacrifice
brought to the Temple,
they say it stands for the Templeís destruction.

We say it is a remembrance
of women sacrificed and forgotten,
women omitted from endless lists of eggless men
who begat other men.
A remembrance of parched heads of women poets
who opened the ovens and turned on the gas,
women shoved into ovens at Auschwitz and gassed,
eggs forbidden to hatch into
birds forbidden to sing.

Third:

Zíroa, roasted bone with bits of meat,
lamb bone, spring born,
the creation of all flesh.
Paschal lamb, first born son taken
from your motherís breasts,
lips still dripping with milk,
your sacrificed blood drips from the doorposts
to slake the thirst of the Angel of Death,
blood drips from the altar, from the bayonet,
the bullet hole.

The rabbis say this bone stands for the mighty arm
of God who led us out of bondage.
We say, only when we stand against the pharaohs,
the priests, the presidents
who lead our sons to be sacrificed
only then will we begin
to lead ourselves from bondage.

Fourth:

Charoset, chopped apples and nuts mixed with wine,
fruit of our labor in vineyard and orchard.
Taste it, itís sweet.

This is the mortar we made for pharaoh
these are the torah covers, embroidered
by women forbidden to touch the torah,
these are garments sewn by women
in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory,
books written by women and claimed by their husbands,
bodies of women sold into marriage or prostitution.

Tonight we feast on our own fruit,
reclaim our stolen property;
tonight we remember being property.

Fifth:

Maror, bitter herbs, horseradish,
bitter days of slavery.
Maror is more precious than jewelry,
maror is memory, there is no charoset
without it.
For the sake of maror, each woman
must tell her motherís story,
must speak her own truth without shame.

The rabbis say, speak as though you were there
with Moshe, as though you personally
were led from Mizraim.
But we say, it is not "as though," it is now.
In each generation the slavemasters come for us,
the plagues, the pogroms.
Speak maror. Let each womenís voice
guide her daughter through the wilderness.

Sixth:

Matzah.
Why do the rabbis call it, "bread of affliction"?
This isnít slave bread,
pharaohís wages, eaten under the lash.
Our mothers made this bread.
It could not rise, it gave its rising
to the Children of Israel
who rose before dawn, who stole away
to the battered woman who rose before dawn
who stole her children away
to the silenced woman who began to raise her voice
to the raped woman who raised her fist
to the striker, to the refugee
the spirit of matzah enters their bread, everywhere.
This is the bread of freedom.
 
 

Cin...ma V...rit...
Jan Clausen

Stand, walk, run, eat, show movies or move or be moved
by some thing rather than oneself. -- Yvonne Rainer

I should/I donít want to:
that old senseless split, harking
back to childhood.

Sunís impersonal keystroke.
Blue ledge of air.

He grills me about what I saw in Africa.

Pyramids
of shaved oranges (someoneís livelihood) disclosed
by a smoking wick.
Kid down on all fours being stomach-sick
into a pungent ditch.
In Cape Coast,
this was.

Donít want to --?
Help.
Or if one canít?

Be moved
by patterns blazing
at cross purposes. Normal accidents.
The wild thing,
so-called.

On the cherry esplanade, a single tree
has bungled time.
It fastens this mussed and tentative corsage
to Decemberís warm lapel.

Must I grieve then
or what?

Run riot.
Keep shop.

Tiny crimson apple-berried branches.

One might devise a sequence.
Tunnel into everyday.
Register the old-fashioned selfís
bleeding out
into anyone.

Still.
It was me, seeing.

Iím stuck.

blunder through
that rose garden without the roses.
Stumble. Rummage. Scribble. Pluck. Plummet
into the gorgeous cleft
between picture and narrative
world without end.

Itís true.
Thereís nothing for it.

Do a few things
and die.
 
 

The Women Always Wave the Flags
Donna Allegra

At construction sites
they stand bored
signaling traffic
out of the way of big machines

Women in hard hats
fly fluorescent orange warning:
caution, slow down
their banners telegraph:
men at work.

But today I saw
a worker with round in her hips
straddle a machine gun drill
stuttering through stone

She braced her body
to conduct its force
to trumpet a hole in the rock,
anchor a bolt to the wall,
fasten the pole
she hoisted like a baton,
unfurled her colors
and let the flag wave
by itself.

(Prior pub.: Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry,
edited by Marilyn Sewell (Beacon Press)