The Work of Woman

The world is forever ending,

every generation chasing the same

catastrophes and atrocities their parents

learned before them. Migrating in search

of herds of hatred, anger, and fear to feed upon.

 

But for each inky night that swallows up hope,

there is a woman who stands up,

though her soul is broken,

and crosses the room to light a fire

and places a potato in a pot

or the very last grains of rice,

because stomachs must be fed

and laundry doesn’t care for cataclysm.

 

A woman who, in her grandad’s pickup truck,

her forehead resting against one chapped hand

as she mouths the music on the radio,

drives to the bank for the loan,

because the chemo won’t pay for itself.

 

A woman who rises early for work at the factory

and pins a yellow Star of David on her coat,

because the rent is due, and it’s been almost a month now

since they took father and Misha away.

 

A woman who has watched a thousand men

ascend the ladder ahead of her, but who shows up,

measures her smiles and speaks calmly, firmly,

because her message is important and must not be dismissed.

 

A woman who weeps and arranges the shattered

pieces of her heart into the shape of a poem

to send out into the crumbling world,

because somewhere in the desolation

are the ears of others listening for signs they’re not alone.

 

A woman who leans over the cradle of an infant

she did not birth and will not raise,

but who she will pick up and comfort and feed,

becoming for only a moment a mother

in place of the mother who didn’t make it through the night.

 

A birthright, this numb inertia

that keeps life slowly wading forward

through the scalding lava of destruction

as the world ends

and ends

and ends

work

The Work of Woman

I Used to be a Reader

This is a hard thing for a writer to say:

I used to read.

I used to read voraciously. I carried books with me wherever I went. I slept with them under my pillow.

I read three or more books at a time, and knew what page number I was on in each of them.

When I found a writer I loved, I inhaled EVERYTHING they’d ever written. I spent hours in bookstores. I lived in the library.

Then two things happened. I had babies and I graduated with a degree in literature.

After college, I didn’t read anything but non-fiction for a full two years. I was burned out. Proust will do that to you.

I did still read a lot of poetry and history. I read to research my novels. And of course I memorized Go Dog Go, Skippy Jon Jones, and Sandra Boynton’s entire canon, (which I highly recommend).

But outside of an occasional audio-book, I almost quit reading novels altogether.

It’s hard to read when you’re a mom.

Every book was like the leftover, half-finished bagel you shove in your mouth between jumping out of the shower and rodeo-ing the kids into the car. When I did get to read, I read without tasting. Without digesting.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

But today, ten years and two days after learning I was pregnant with my first child, I took my youngest child to kindergarten, hugged her, kissed her, hugged her again, cried a little, and turned to find myself facing a tiny ocean of time.

Time to myself.

I’ve had today marked for a few months as the day I’m going to start working on my novel again. But as it got closer and closer, a different excitement overshadowed it.

I’m going to read.

I’m going to read Literature. With a capital L.

I’m going to read big, fat, difficult books.

I’m going to read skinny, compact, difficult books.

I’m going to read my old favorites – Atwood, Steinbeck, Morrison, Camus, Bradbury, Allende.

I’m going to read new authors.

I’m going to read authors I’ve never even heard of.

I’m going to read poetry and plays.

I’m going to read Shakespeare again. Shakespeare! Out loud! For fun!

I’m going to read in public and ignore people.

I’m going to read in private and ignore my phone.

I might even try to tackle Moby Dick for the umpteenth time.

I went to a bookstore today by myself. I spent a lot of time selecting the first three books for my bibliophile bacchanal. Three books made of paper and ink.

They smell terrific.

If you need me, I’ll be in my room.

P.S. Don’t need me.

books

I Used to be a Reader

First Tooth

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

First Tooth*

 

A poem shimmering forward

like the mirage of human form

awakens me from tattered sleep.

 

Before I’ve reached my pen,

she’s awake again and wailing.

 

The shard of bone gnawing

through her gum claws

closer to the surface, aching

to erupt. We rise, unrested.

 

When I lift her, she tries

to scale me like a mountain.

 

I make coffee while she

worries her toothlessness

like a splinter or a pebble in a shoe.

 

We maroon ourselves

on the living-room floor,

on an island of brief sunlight.

We won’t leave the house today.

 

Through steam-stained windows,

the naked trees are vague.

The sidewalks are phlegmy with ice.

 

Winter grinds its fist into the city.

 

Naptime – she refuses to sleep unheld.

My shoulders ache from stillness.

I search for the image that woke me.

I struggle to dredge the seed from memory,

urge it to burst its smooth skin,

to declare itself.

 

Her cheek against my breast is

firm and cool like rising bread.

 

She wakes again,

and wails her yearning for teeth.

 

I ease her down so I can

stretch the knots from my shoulders.

 

Light gathers in the tears on her lashes.

With a orphaned look,

she reaches for me, both arms up.

 

Her hands panic

like dizzy, breathless butterflies.

 

This is new, this reaching.

 

 

 

 

*Originally published in MotherVerse Magazine

First Tooth

50 Shades of WTF?

The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.

Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.

The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.

First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.

Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.

Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.

Sexuality and identity get messy fast.

Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.

My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”

Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”

Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.

If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.

But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:

Stories matter.

To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”

I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).

But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”

It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.

Relax?

To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”

This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.

They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.

As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”

Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?

Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?

Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?

Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?

Or are you a grown up?

This is basic.

Stories matter.

It’s never “Just a book.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.

But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.

50 Shades of WTF?