Category Archives: Poetry journal

Quarantined Uterus (pandemic poem #6)

–for Alison Gates

Is your uterus quarantined in my office?
Is it velvet? Latex? Mod-podge? Wires? Ribbons? Lace?
If so, I apologize. You’ll get it back. I promise.

Were you in the original exhibit? Are you one of us?
Are your creations fearfully and wonderfully made?
Is your uterus quarantined in my office?

Do you spend more or less time now taking offense?
Has your life been irrevocably derailed?
If so, I apologize. You’ll get it back. I promise.

Let us now praise our famous menopauses.
The big one. The peri, which stops and starts, like waves.
Is your uterus quarantined in my office?

Has yours been removed? Do you miss it? The mysterious
bloody Weltanschauung a uterus contains?
If so, I apologize. You’ll get it back. I promise.

Are you sewing like a banshee gone all Amish?
Has your normally sufficient equilibrium been mislaid?
Is your uterus quarantined in my office?
If so, I apologize. You’ll get everything back. I promise.

This is Alison Gates’s contribution to the Exquisite Uterus project.

_____

This poem was inspired by a Facebook comment from Alison Gates in which she said, in response to someone asking if she was referring to the Exquisite Uterus Project, “Yes! Are you one of us? Is your uterus quarantined in my office? If so, I apologize.” This may well be my first found poem. (The woman Alison was responding to quoted “fearfully and wonderfully made” from Psalm 139 in her contribution, so I was inspired by her, too.)

Alison Gates & Helen Klebesadel (two of my feminist / academic / Wisconsin / inspirations) started the Exquisite Uterus Project   in 2012 as protest against the (unfortunately) continuing (and unfortunately escalating) war on women. I was lucky enough to see the exhibit at the University of Wisconsin System’s Faculty College, which used to be hosted on my sweet little UW campus.

My villanelle here isn’t particularly political except in the sense that I truly believe the personal is political, that it’s political to speak plainly of our lady parts, and I aimed the question about taking offense at people who are offended by the word “uterus” or any hint of women’s agency, humor, intelligence, vast creative power, etc.

My own relationship with my uterus is very much defined by perimenopause these days. My brilliant body chose this pandemic as a moment in which to say “yeah–no–we’re not done with all that yet.”  So that explains the direction the poem went.

In any case, I believe reproductive rights are human rights. That women’s rights are human rights. In case anyone ever had any doubt.  And I’m concerned that people are using the pandemic as an excuse to curtail abortion rights, such as this story from NPR, which describes such attempts (and at least momentary judicial remedies).

In the meantime, I am happy to celebrate amazing, creative women who share their work and their passion and their generosity.

Bad Habits (Pandemic Poem #5)

“Do you realize the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose? … Or sometimes there will be blood mingled with the mucous: in dry brown scabs, or bright sudden wet red on the finger that scraped too rudely the nasal membranes. God, what sexual satisfaction!”  Sylvia Plath

 

Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—
my fingers shake. I count to three.  Apparently
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.

I cover my mouth, two-handed. I don’t know why.
Afraid of my breath? Of what I’ll say? Beats me.
Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—

if our fair-haired Sylvia hadn’t died from suicide,
her sexy rhinotillexomania would currently be
why she can’t sit on her hands to save her life—

I picture nails with a Betty Draper shine,
a shade of pink called Cool Eternity.
Depression stops and starts all the time

for some of us, a tide that likes to rise
and fall, constant. Irregular. Seriously,
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.

Knowing myself the way I do, it won’t be a surprise
if I die from fidgeting. I hope it’s not immediately.
I can’t stop touching my face to save my life.
Eternity’s stopping and starting all the time—

______

Dream Song #5, Pandemic Poem #4

I dreamed I saw a Wooly dog descendant—
wiggle-butted, scruffy, ornery, clearly
one more in a long line of poodle-terrier mutts.
His owner said, “he’s a Rottweiler,” but
no way. Just too much Benji evident.
Black against the giant foxtail. Curly
in every way—tousled coat, bent tail,
wagging walk toward me when I called.
When I was little, we let our dogs run free
all day and shut them up at night. Also, we
got the girl dogs fixed, but not the boys.
Thus all the Wooly dogs in Southern Illinois.
Every single thing was looser then.
I was happy. My dogs were my best friends.

______

Napping with Wooly.

QUARANTINE ABECDARIAN THAT AMAZINGLY DOESN’T USE “QUARANTINE” FOR THE “Q”

Aline is a poet
Bob likes to fish
Chuck likes to throw things
Doug plays in the dirt
Ed likes to teach
Fanny likes to WHAT? WHAT DID YOU THINK I WAS GOING TO SAY?
Gale is a blowhard
Hi says hello
I spend so much time
Just amusing myself. I wonder if I can
Keep it up when we start
Losing people we know to the virus.
Mom and Dad are in lockdown
Now, we can’t hug them
Or even visit except online.
Prayers seem distasteful when the religious
Quacks sound them the loudest.
Really trying to focus, to be there for my
Students, but I feel stunned a lot of the
Time. But I keep trying. Which of
Us will turn out to have the right
Vision for how this all will
Work? Imagining the future takes e-
Xtreme optimism, which I don’t have. Do
You? Let’s talk about it more on
Zoom.

_____

I’m not much of an optimist, but in a few weeks, my azaleas will be blooming.

Pandemic Poem #2: Singing Happy Birthday Alone

Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m trying to work. I’d rather nap. I just wash
my hands and sing happy birthday again and again

and watch my hands dry out. Here’s another concern:
if I don’t strive hard right now, really push,
my life will never, ever be normal again.

Pandemic, panic, politics. Alliteration is not our friend.
While I wait for everything online to crash,
I decide to wash my hands and sing happy birthday again.

I want to be a superspreader. I want people to die. I want
to die. I’m not as shocked as I should be by my awful thoughts.
“Things will get back to normal.” Can you tell me when?

I’m grateful for root vegetables and food in cans.
My hero potatoes: fry, roast, boil, mash.
Will we ever sing happy birthday at a party again?

How soon we have to cook over open fire depends
on how well the grid holds up. Such a specific wish.
Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m singing happy birthday all alone again.

Nothing Much

–for friends whose child died

 

I have nothing to give you, and nothing
on a piece of paper will help except that
having lost everything, you have
less than nothing, so maybe nothing
is something, maybe nothing is enough.

I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sad.
I think of you so often. I send you love.
I send you my prayers and my thoughts.
I, I, I,
I have this compulsion to make it about me.
One time I grieved so hard for a man
I barely knew, it took me years
to write the widow and that letter
was, like this current moment, about me.

Love from a distance and tokens and prayers
and kind thoughts on paper and strong wishes
every time you cross my mind, which is a lot.
As you continue to do the math of all you’ve lost,
the complicated math, the algebra, the calculus
(the problems of death are exponential,
the remainders don’t fit anywhere), just add
this in somewhere, this nothing. It isn’t nothing
exactly, but it’s not enough. It’s nothing much.

Questions of Real Estate

“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop

 

When I look at Real Estate in The New York Times,
I am charmed, absorbed by how small the spaces are
how much they cost, how light, how airy, how clever.
And oh!  The things the owners say sometimes:
“It’s a modest little apartment but it’s so well done,”
(Barbara Barrie said) “It has brought me joy every day.”
But the odds for joy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan
are better than even, I’d guess. I really couldn’t say.
I am obsessed with other people’s homes.
I drive by houses and picture myself there.
Would I like it? Are the people inside happier
or sadder? Do they want to stay or go?
I think I could be happy anywhere.

I could be happy anywhere but here.

_______

I suppose it’s possible that last line is true, but more likely it’s the poet in me having that line occur to me and going NICE TWIST.  In any case, my house in small-town Wisco is pretty sweet sometimes:

a pic my husband took this morning