the man wants his blue pills
for free, on demand
he wants his fucks on demand, too
he calls it health care
the man wants his woman
for free, on demand
he wants her to carry
on demand, for free
and without complaint
he calls it god-fearing
the man wants the woman
to open her legs
only when he demands it
for free, otherwise
he calls it whoring
he calls it prostitution
the man wants the woman
to carry, to serve
to suffer, to pay, to obey
he calls it religious
he calls it freedom
[Click the image to see credits & larger sizes at flickr.]
... vote to allow him to marry.
Today, at the market, a middle-aged couple, squeezing
tomatoes. They remind me of you, one gaunt, grey,
with sharp cheekbones; the other large and reddish.
I remember you exiting the plane at the Missoula airport,
both in huge fur coats, New York queers and proud
of it. Christmas, and you two glittered and grinned
brighter than the trees. I wish I could tell you, again,
how you filled up my house with your games and quarrels,
and how I miss you now, all the empty corners. Every day
there is something I wish I could tell you. A woman
at my office has a Mariachi band made of stuffed frogs
and tin guitars. I am making a garden, dreaming
into spring, pale daffodils, crocus, orange columbine.
The sunroom will have a heated floor of satillo tile.
I gave your buffalo robe to a Chickasaw poet, who one day
will give it to her daughter, and she to hers. I have tried
to put your things where they belong. The Hudson Bay painting
to a man who never loved a picture before. Your gold
LaBaron convertible to the artist who painted the woods
you went into, finally. Sometimes I look for you there.
Are you where you belong?
Sometimes when I experience a crisis of confidence, as I have lately (what am I doing? is it any good? what does it matter? & so on) I scroll back through this blog, just to see what I have been doing.
Late last night I came across this post, from January 2008, which I had completely forgotten about. I sound so ... confident.
Click through to the original and outside links to see the comment threads, which are of interest in themselves:
[UPDATED 8:00 PM 16 January: Wow. Andrew Sullivan just linked to the poem. My stats are booming!]
My poems seldom incite controversy, but I Have This To Say About That, regarding why the New Hampshire pollsters got it wrong, has done exactly that, here and elsewhere. Comments and emails on this poem have reminded me of questions regarding the role and responsibility of art, of poetry, in our contentious times; and of my own responsibilities, as a poet, a woman, a feminist, and a citizen.
First, let me mention that (like many, if not most poets) I often write in a voice not my own; that neither the speaker nor the subject of my poem is necessarily me. Like a novelist, I am attempting to say truth with fiction, true fiction, as it were. I have found, through the years, that adherence to fact can actually impede the expression of truth.
In writing workshops, when some aspect of a piece is critiqued, the novice writer will often protest: but that's what actually happened! and resist the suggestion that something that didn't really happen might express the mood or the point of the piece with more power and, paradoxically, authenticity.
I am not a reporter. I am a poet. I attempt to tell the truth, and sometimes to enlighten, to entertain, even to amuse while doing so. I am attempting to enlighten, entertain, and amuse myself as well as the reader. The truth is, I often don't know what my poem is about until years later, if ever.
But this time I did.
I chose to speak in a voice not my own, a cadence as true as I could make it to the twang of my western youth. My uncles' voices, perhaps; a certain Missouri syrup in there with a little Montana cowboy. But is this cowboy lying when he says:
They lie mostly about
money and politics.
And sex. That, too.
... to which several have taken offense?
No, he is telling the truth. People lie when they must, or when they believe they must. In this country, many women have little power in these arenas, which are considered the territory of the husband -- so they lie. They lie to get along, or to get what they need or want, or -- in more cases than we want to acknowledge -- to avoid a beating.
But they tell the truth when they can:
when they pull that poll booth curtain
closed, who's to know?
One response to this poem was that it presents an ugly stereotype of men and women. This is true.
catnapping says: ... one of the things that kinda bothers me about absentee ballots is that so many women have abusive husbands watching over their shoulders as they fill them out ...
It has been suggested that merely writing -- or posting -- this poem is a betrayal of women. My first (gut) response to this was, gosh, women are betrayed in so many ways, this doesn't even register on the meter -- even if it were a betrayal, which I don't believe it is.
But the suggestion does raise the question -- are there things that must not be said? Isn't that how we got here to begin with, by being told that there are questions which must not be asked, things which must not be said? Isn't this, at least in part, what art is for: to say what is not allowed, to uncover what is buried?
gautami tripathy says: ... categorising as Woman or Black man is demeaning. We vote for a person, not to any gender or colour.
To which I say, this is the dream. But the dream has not been reached. In this country, it is unprecedented to have viable candidates for president who are women, who are black. As long as there are (many) citizens who will vote against a candidate on that basis, we must not pretend otherwise. To pretend otherwise is to accept things as they are, without hope or expectation of change.
And I do not.
And white women, well,
they'll vote for a woman
or a black man without flinching.
... which is, of course, the dream, that one might vote for someone like or unlike ourselves, without flinching. Or the nightmare, I suppose, depending on your point of view. If you think that only white men should be in positions of power, this is, truly, the nightmare.
Don't those pollsters know
that married women
Is this really why the pollsters got it wrong? I don't know; it was just an thought, that grew into a voice, that grew into a poem, that became a question.
That became several questions: Are there thoughts, ideas, concepts, that a responsible artist must not share? Is poetry a political act? Do you restrict what you say in public, because of these concerns?
Is that lying?
[There is a piece in response to this one at Poetics Vs. Politics: I Just Have This To Say About That.]