(untitled) By Rosellen Brown
Three months into Nothing To Do,
I asked if he wanted my mail route: You
drive, I said, I’ll clean some houses,
shake the mothballs off my waitress gear – easier
to slip me in some little space, a mouse
through a hole in the wall, than you.
I was being cheerful,
I wanted to save his battered face,
but he shouted No!
That was the only time
I ever thought he was going to hit me, this husband of mine, and, do you know,
I can’t think why. Which of us
was he hurt for? Both of us desperate, but differently,
was it offering women’s work – as if men don’t
deliver the mail – or my work, my gift
of something he didn’t want to need
that shamed him so?
This poem appears in CORA FRY’S PILLOW BOOK (FSG publisher)
Rosellen Brown has published ten books – novels, short stories, poetry, essays. She has lived in almost as many places – New York, Boston, San Francisco, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Texas — and currently teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her stories have appeared frequently in the Best American, O. Henry and Pushcart prize collections.
Weapon Ultimate By Patricia Smith
The Nigerian women smeared
a thick line of Texaco’s oil
under each eye, warrior warnings,
then crouched low and sprang
with the boulders of their bodies
their stout ashy legs and mad wrists,
holding their paper banners with words
scratched out and respelled:
Give work to our husbands,
our brothers, our sons.
Give us light and water,
or pack now.
The pure singular force
Their glorious damnable throats.
You remember. Pack now.
This poem appears in TEAHOUSE OF THE ALMIGHTY (paperback edition (2006) from Coffee House Press)
Patricia Smith is the author of six books of poetry, including Blood Dazzler, a finalist for the National Book Award, and her latest, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, Tin House and in both Best American Poetry 2011 and Best American Essays 2011. She is a 2012 fellow at both the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, a two-time Pushcart Prize winner and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. She teaches at the College of Staten Island and in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell By M
This pleasant dental hygienist with her fingers
in my mouth asks So do you have any
children? and I want to tell her that her
elbows rising on either side of my head
look like griffin wings, for some strange
reason, those mythical creatures with a duty
to protect what’s priceless, along with the power
to transport me back to that gynecologist’s office
thirty years ago, the fifth I’d consulted, his pink
consent form asking Does your husband agree
to your sterilization? and to the signature I’d forged
on the paperwork just as I had as a girl of fourteen
in need of parental permission to watch a sex-ed film
that promised all the answers to whatever
marvels and misconceptions men keep hidden
in their pants pockets, but never delivered
before the parade of friend after friend came rolling
through, handing me their babies to cradle, hopeful
that one perfect embrace could induce
in me the birth of want and the opening of a door
to my mother, whose grandchild balloon
I’d popped one afternoon, her face sick, her hands
extending a new white terrycloth robe
that said if total disarmament was out
of the question, at least we could call a cease-fire
over my belly that would never carry more than a couple
of stitches through my umbilicus, and all those predictions
of regret, inaccurate as Portland forecasts that fail
to include one of our fifty-seven varieties
of rain. But it’s impolite to talk with your mouth
full. I shake my head from side to side instead,
her sympathetic fingers still in the dark.
M is an associate poetry editor for Stirring : A Literary Collection. She is also a performance poet, and her poems have appeared in a variety of journals. You can hear her read selections of her work at the Rattle Audio Archives.
Code By Susan Eisenberg
He had her height beat
by a strong foot, and her weight
by double, and made no bones: no girl
belonged in construction unless prone.
One day, on the lift, the two chanced
to be enclosed alone. His rough hand reached
into her shirt’s chest pocket, grabbed
a pencil, snapped it in her face.
She locked eye contact, gave an oooh-ooh-
until she could exit at her floor, gasp air.
She knew he’d meant: Any time I want,
I could snap your neck.
She traversed a daily tightrope of bravado
and bluff, became master decoder of gesture
and phrasing, her ear attuned
to the slightest innuendo
at the faintest decibel
until nerves wore threadbare;
until, like an experienced bridge builder ––
on a day that seemed no different ––
out far on a beam: she froze.
Susan Eisenberg is the author of “We’ll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction,” a New York Times Notable Book, and the poetry collections, “Blind Spot” and “Pioneering.” She entered union construction in 1978 and is a licensed master electrician. As a Resident Artist and Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, she focuses on projects that address patient-centered medical care and employment equity. On Equal Terms, her touring mixed media art installation about women in construction, will exhibit at the Clemente Soto Velez Center in NYC February 24 – March 24, 2013.