being woman: me too

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The rush to exclaim “me too” on social media channels this past week, with the flood of Harvey Weinstein sexual assault/harassment claims, has exasperated me. Because I am so tired. I am tired of asking day after day, “Why are we here… still at this place?” I keep reading book after book, witnessing event after event, moment after moment, of both subtle and overt sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, gender-based undermining. I am guilty of trying to ignore it, as though it does not exist. And this cascade of voices – literally every woman (and many men) I know – claiming, “Me too” almost grows hollow through its very echo.

Being female in the world is a battle for survival in a way that it just isn’t for a man. Worse yet, even when we occasionally think we’ve got an ally in this man or that, he doesn’t really get it or thinks he is an exception. Or is actually one of the smug male masses who call themselves feminists but make snide remarks about things like a “me too” social media campaign, women who supposedly bring down ‘good guys’ with false or misremembered accusations or the ‘overblown’ nature of sexual harassment in general (i.e. “it doesn’t happen nearly as often as women claim it does”). Are you fucking kidding me?

And these are women’s lives in the best of circumstances. What about those who live in the worst?

“Out of necessity’s hard stones we suck
what water we can and so we have survived,
women born of women.”

The Moon is Always Female
Marge Piercy
The moon is always female and so
am I although often in this vale
of razorblades I have wished I could
put on and take off my sex like a dress
and why not? Do men always wear their sex
always? The priest, the doctor, the teacher
all tell us they come to their professions
neuter as clams and the truth is
when I work I am pure as an angel
tiger and clear is my eye and hot
my brain and silent all the whining
grunting piglets of the appetites.
For we were priests to the goddesses
to whom were fashioned the first altars
of clumsy stone on stone and leaping animal
in the wombdark caves, long before men
put on skirts and masks to scare babies.
For we were healers with herbs and poultices
with our milk and careful fingers
long before they began learning to cut up
the living by making jokes at corpses.
For we were making sounds from our throats
and lips to warn and encourage the helpless
young long before schools were built
to teach boys to obey and be bored and kill.

I wake in a strange slack empty bed
of a motel, shaking like dry leaves
the wind rips loose, and in my head
is bound a girl of twelve whose female
organs all but the numb womb are being
cut from her with a knife. Clitoridectomy,
whatever Latin name you call it, in a quarter
of the world girl children are so maimed
and I think of her and I cannot stop.
And I think of her and I cannot stop.

If you are a woman you feel the knife in the words.
If you are a man, then at age four or else
at twelve you are seized and held down
and your penis is cut off. You are left
your testicles but they are sewed to your
crotch. When your spouse buys you, you
are torn or cut open so that your precious
semen can be siphoned out, but of course
you feel nothing. But pain. But pain.

For the uses of men we have been butchered
and crippled and shut up and carved open
under the moon that swells and shines
and shrinks again into nothingness, pregnant
and then waning toward its little monthly
death. The moon is always female but the sun
is female only in lands where females
are let into the sun to run and climb.

A woman is screaming and I hear her.
A woman is bleeding and I see her
bleeding from the mouth, the womb, the breasts
in a fountain of dark blood of dismal
daily tedious sorrow quite palatable
to the taste of the mighty and taken for granted
that the bread of domesticity be baked
of our flesh, that the hearth be built
of our bones of animals kept for meat and milk,
that we open and lie under and weep.
I want to say over the names of my mothers
like the stones of a path I am climbing
rock by slippery rock into the mists.
Never even at knife point have I wanted
or been willing to be or become a man.
I want only to be myself and free.

I am waiting for the moon to rise. Here
I squat, the whole country with its steel
mills and its coal mines and its prisons
at my back and the continent tilting
up into mountains and torn by shining lakes
all behind me on this scythe of straw,
a sand bar cast on the ocean waves, and I
wait for the moon to rise red and heavy
in my eyes. Chilled, cranky, fearful
in the dark I wait and I am all the time
climbing slippery rocks in a mist while
far below the waves crash in the sea caves;
I am descending a stairway under the groaning
sea while the black waters buffet me
like rockweed to and fro.

I have swum the upper waters leaping
in dolphin’s skin for joy equally into the nec-
cessary air and the tumult of the powerful wave.
I am entering the chambers I have visited.
I have floated through them sleeping and sleep-
walking and waking, drowning in passion
festooned with green bladderwrack of misery.
I have wandered these chambers in the rock
where the moon freezes the air and all hair
is black or silver. Now I will tell you
what I have learned lying under the moon
naked as women do: now I will tell you
the changes of the high and lower moon.
Out of necessity’s hard stones we suck
what water we can and so we have survived,
women born of women. There is knowing
with the teeth as well as knowing with
the tongue and knowing with the fingertips
as well as knowing with words and with all
the fine flickering hungers of the brain.

tall ashes of loneliness

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Goodbye to the Poetry of Calcium
James Wright

Dark cypresses–
The world is uneasily happy;
It will all be forgotten.
–Theodore Storm

Mother of roots, you have not seeded
The tall ashes of loneliness
For me. Therefore,
Now I go.
If I knew the name,
Your name, all trellises of vineyards and old fire
Would quicken to shake terribly my
Earth, mother of spiraling searches, terrible
Fable of calcium, girl. I crept this afternoon
In weeds once more,
Casual, daydreaming you might not strike
Me down. Mother of window sills and journeys,
Hallower of searching hands,
The sight of my blind man makes me want to weep.
Tiller of waves or whatever, woman or man,
Mother of roots or father of diamonds,
Look: I am nothing.
I do not even have ashes to rub into my eyes.

inflamed frame

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Synopsis
Amir Or
You put on your gorgeous
fornicating body
wear it like a tiger
wears its pounce.

I dig in your wound
toward the capsule of morphine
splash in the gorgeous plague
squirt meta-pain sparks

into the inflamed frame,
bounce from trampoline of skies
taut to the limit–
shoot
a last rain
definitely last.
Now
a long shot
roams the nebulas of flesh;

now it is permissible
to fold the skies
break the frame

edit memories
pay

Like a tiger its pounce
I take off your gorgeous
fornicating body.

discrepancies of translation

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When I selected this particular poem, Asher Reich‘s “The History of My Heart”, I had only read the translation by Tsipi Keller but when doing a bit of background research found another translation by Vivian Eden. As always, I was struck by how different the meaning can be depending on the interpretation of the translator. I have included both translations here (but cannot find the original Hebrew, and I would not be able to read the original anyway, so I don’t know which translation best reflects the closest literal meaning versus which best reflects intent/figurative meaning).

A good example here of what I mean is that in the Keller translation, it’s a line is translated: “dark ages of humiliating defeats” while the Eden translation cites “dark ages of shameful defeats”. Personally I feel that there is a vast difference between the meaning and nuance of these two word choices: humiliating versus shameful. Shame seems so much stronger, imbued with a much deeper sense of self-blame and guilt, while humiliating does not make me feel the same sense of ongoing ‘defeat’, i.e. humiliation will embarrass you in the moment but shame will stick with you and even alter the course of your actions, possibly even your life? What do you think? I prefer Keller’s version (shown below first), but I like both.

The History of My Heart
-Asher Reich
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 13.53.00
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 13.53.54

A second opinion:

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 13.51.13

Photo by gn dim on Unsplash

robotic clasp

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This Evening
Shin Shifra
If things were tailored
tonight to fit my size
I’d put on a frock
of crimson
weaved of raw lust
like the scent of unruly chrysanthemum
harboring a promise
of rain.
Whomever I meet this evening
on my way
will be small for my size
and when I return I’ll be an old hag
and lust will turn
to longing

Every day the sun like a groom
toward me
and until night
I waited for you clad in white —
who is it tottering up the stairs
the voice of my love
your arms closed on me
in a robotic clasp

Complete

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With love, for J

As Agreed
Natan Zach

Look, as we promised each other,
we changed nothing and the world
is as wonderful as it was, the rain
tarries this year, but it will come:
it will come as long as we’re still here.

Look, as we agreed,
I am in one place, you in another.
We didn’t become one, which is also natural,
and in your weakness and in mine
there looms a promise, too:
after memory forgetfulness is all.

And if the road already may incline downward
in the famed sloping print of life’s curve,
it does, in some sense, aspire upward,
and aspiration is a great thing in life,
on this, too, we agreed, you surely remember.

And if now I’m alone and aching and ailing more than ever,
this, too, was a choice,
if not always conscious. And if you too are alone,
it makes my loneliness less just
and this should sustain you as well.

How fortunate that we’ve agreed on so little:
on parting, on loneliness and fear, the basic certainties,
and there’s always something to return to,
you will see how young we will be in the end,
and the end, when it comes, will be almost just.
And everything, you will see, will be almost welcome.