. . . . Good Morning!
Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
What would happen if one woman told
the truth about her life? The world would
– Muriel Rukeyser
March 8th is International Women’s Day. In 1910, at the Second International Conference of Women in Copenhagen, Luise Zietz, a German Socialist, and Clara Zetkin, head of the Women’s Office for the German Social Democratic Party, proposed an International Women’s Day. They were inspired by the first Woman’s Day, which had been launched on February 28, 1909, in the United States. The American writer and humanist Charlotte Perkins Gilman addressed a crowd in New York City, proclaiming, “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood, but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.” On March 8, 1911, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time.
International Women’s Day is now a public holiday in Abkhazia, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Eritrea, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Kazakhstan, Kygyyztan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Nauru, Nepal (for women only), North Korea, Russia, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Transdniestria, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Zambia. In Bulgaria, March 8th is Mothers’ Day.
Naomi Shihab Nye tells a story: “During the Gulf War, I remember two little third grade girls saying to me – after I read them some poems by writers in Iraq – ‘You know, we never thought about there being children in Iraq before.’ And I thought, ‘Well those poems did their job, because now they’ll think about everything a little bit differently.’”
It’s my hope that these poems, from women writers all over the world, will make us all think “a little bit differently.”
Every poem is an action
by Solmaz Sharif
Every poem is an action.
Every action is political.
Every poem is political.
A lover, once: You can’t say every action is political.
Then the word political loses all meaning.
He added: What is political about this moment?
I was washing his dishes. I had left the water running.
“Every poem is an action” © 2013 by Solmaz Sharif, published in the April 2013 issue of the journal Evening Will Come
Solmaz Sharif (1983 – ), daughter of Iranian parents, was born in Istanbul. As she describes it: “en route out of the country, out of Iran. We went to Texas, then we went to Alabama, then we finally ended up in Southern California. We moved around a little bit there. It’s been a long route.”
The Day the Mountains Move
by Yosano Akiko
.The day the mountains move has come.
I speak, but no one believes me.
For a time the mountains have been asleep,
But long ago, they all danced with fire.
It doesn’t matter if you believe this,
My friends, as long as you believe:
All the sleeping women
Are now awake and moving.
“The Day the Mountains Move” from Feminist Theory Reader, © 2016, edited by Carole R. McCann and Seung-kyung Kim – Routledge Books
Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) born as Shō Hō, Japanese author, poet, pioneering feminist, and social reformer. Published in 1901, Midaregami (Tangled Hair), her first of several collections of tanka, a traditional Japanese poetry form, contained around 400 poems, the majority of them love poems. It was denounced by most literary critics as vulgar or obscene, but was widely read by freethinkers, as it brought a passionate individualism to this traditional form, unlike any other work of the late Meiji period. The poems defied Japanese society’s expectation of women to always be gentle, modest and passive. In her poems, women are assertively sexual. She frequently wrote for the all-woman literary magazine Seitō (Bluestocking.) Even though she gave birth to 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, she rejected motherhood as her main identity, saying limiting a sense of self to a single aspect of one’s life, however important, entraps women in the old way of thinking.
Who Said It Was Simple
by Audre Lorde
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear.
Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
“Who Said It Was Simple” from From a Land Where Other People Live, © 1973 by Audre Lorde, Broadside Press
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, poet, feminist, lesbian, librarian, and civil rights activist. She was born in New York City, the daughter of a father from Barbados, and a mother from Grenada. Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, women, and the exploration of black female identity. She became an associate of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in 1977, and was a co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980. She survived breast cancer in 1978, but died at age 58 of liver cancer in 1992.
How to Triumph Like a Girl
by Ada Limón
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.
“How to Triumph Like a Girl” from Bright Dead Things, © 2015 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions
Ada Limón (1976- ) American poet and writer; author of Lucky Wreck, The Carrying, Bright Dead Things, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Sharks in the Rivers. She splits much of her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.
Were I a Martyr
by Kajal Ahmad
I want no flowers,
no epoch of union,
no dawn of disunion.
I want no flowers
for I am the loveliest flower.
I want no kisses
if for a true wrist
I must hold some knight –
no epoch of marriage,
no dawn of divorce,
no widow’s fever.
I want no kisses
if, along with love, I become a martyr.
I want no tears
over the coffin or me, a corpse.
I want no cherry tree of sympathy
dragged to the walls of my grave,
no flowers or kisses,
no tears or miseries.
I die as a homeland without a flag, without a voice.
I am grateful.
I want nothing.
I will accept nothing.
“Were I a Martyr” from Handful of Salt, © 2016 by Kajal Ahmad, translated by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse – The Word Works
Kajal Ahmad (1967 – ) Kurdish poet, journalist, feminist, and social critic born in Kirkuk, a disputed city in Iraq with a strong Kurdish population. She has published Benderî Bermoda (Thanks to Bermuda), Wutekanî Wutin (title untranslated), Qaweyek le gel ev da (This is What the People Said), Awênem şikand (Awesome Broke), and Handful of Salt. Ahmad worked for over a decade as the Editor-in-Chief of Kurdistani Nwe and at times also worked as a TV host for KurdSat. She worked as a front-lines journalist, embedding as a member of the peshmerga (“those who face death” – the military forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq). In the mountains alongside the fighters, she began to write poetry.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye – Far Corner Books
Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 — ), born in St.Louis, Missouri. Daughter of a father who came to America as a Palestinian refugee, and a born-in-America mother. “I grew up in St. Louis in a tiny house full of large music – Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson singing majestically on the stereo, my German-American mother fingering ‘The Lost Chord’ on the piano as golden light sank through trees, my Palestinian father trilling in Arabic in the shower each dawn.” During her teens, Shihab Nye lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.
The landays of the women of the Pashtun, a tribal people living in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, are two-line poems. This ancient oral art form is meant to be chanted or sung, often while beating a hand drum. It is almost exclusively an art made by women. The poets stay anonymous, so they are free to say whatever they think or feel. Two lines, twenty-two syllables – nine in the first line, thirteen in the second — ending with the sounds ma or na. The passionate voice of women for whom brevity is the soul.
You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.
In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.
When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.
Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.
I lost you on Facebook yesterday.
I’ll find you on Google today.
My love gave his life for our homeland.
I’ll sew his shroud with a strand of my hair.
My darling, you are just like America!
You are guilty; I apologize.
My body belongs to me;
to others its mastery.
All the landays are from I Am the Beggar of the World, translation © 2014 by Eliza Griswold – Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Yesenia Montilla: “I was in a room full of women, discussing the #MeToo movement, and it was no surprise to me that we were all survivors. Later, the one man who had been in the space says to me, ‘I was shocked. That was a shock. Were you shocked?’ And I just said ‘no’ quietly, sitting with the heaviness of twenty women of different backgrounds, faiths, identities, upbringings, everything, having suffered a very similar fate at the hands of men. Much later, I came back to the Borzutzky quote and tried to unpack it against my own sense of self, my own love of body, of consensual touch, and maybe even tried to give some power back to these women. I think I was trying to figure out how I had not gotten to this poem sooner.”
Searching for My Own Body
by Yesenia Montilla
Which is to say that like a good theoretical objectified body,
my identity was created not by me but by the various desires
and beliefs of those around me. – Daniel Borzutzky
My body is a small cave door
it’s a slick whale . . . a jubilant
sea of tall grass that sways
& makes its way across countries
& lovers . . . . . I love . . . . . . . love-making
I don’t remember a time when
I wasn’t interested in touch
I have these breasts
& some . . . . would want to come
on hands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . & knees to worship them
call me flower . . . . or . . . . . . . . . . . . desert
Maybe I was only supposed to be
stone or a baby eel
long & layered . . . . . . . . . . . . . a nun?
I don’t remember ever saying
. . . . . . yes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . just . . no
I am searching . . for my own body
not the one I was told is so
I want to be always open
. . . . . . . . . . like a canyon
Maybe I was only supposed to be
tree or temple
In some circles I am
just an open gate
a sinful bauble
Once someone said you are . . . . . . . . this
& I never questioned it
I am searching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . my own body
for . . . . . . . God
or someone like her—
“Searching for My Own Body” © 2018 by Yesenia Montilla — originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets
Yesenia Montilla is an Afro-Latina poet & a daughter of immigrants, born and raised in New York City. She is a founding member of Poets for Ayiti (Haiti) a collective of poets from diverse backgrounds committed to the power of poetry to transform and educate. Her poetry has appeared in the chapbook For the Crowns of Your Head. She earned a BA from Hunter College and an MFA from Drew University in Poetry and Poetry in translation. Her first poetry collection, The Pink Box, was published by Aquarius Press in 2015, and was long-listed for the 2016 PEN Open Book award.
I Stop Writing the Poem
by Tess Gallagher
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.
“I Stop Writing the Poem” from Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems, © 2011 by Tess Gallagher – Graywolf Press
Tess Gallagher (1943 – ) American poet, essayist, and short story writer. Beginning in 1979, she and writer Raymond Carver lived together, and she helped edit some of his work. He encouraged her to write the short stories collected in The Lover of Horses. They were married six weeks before he died of lung cancer in 1988. She has published over a dozen poetry collections, including Instructions for a Double, which won the Elliston Book Award, Under Stars, Willingly, Amplitude, Portable Kisses, and Dear Ghosts.