TCS: They All Danced with Fire – Poetry for Women’s History Month

   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.

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long
run than outright exposure. The fearful
are caught as often as the bold.

— Helen Keller


These ten poems represent 350 years of women who would not be silent in a male-dominated world that has given little thought to womankind beyond our assigned roles as sexual partners or carriers of the next generation of mankind.

For all the efforts of generations of women activists, there is still little that women can claim as permanent progress, as all they have sacrificed and fought for is again under attack by a vocal minority – a minority that is backed by all the wealth and power of the Status Quo.

No matter our nationality, race, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social status – no matter whether we call it out, or mouth smug denials – all women dance with fire, and many of us have been burned for it.


from To Alexis In Answer to His Poem Against Fruition

by Aphra Behn

Since man with that inconstancy was born,
To love the absent, and the present scorn
Why do we deck, why do we dress
For such short-lived happiness?
Why do we put attraction on,
Since either way ’tis we must be undone?

They fly if honour take our part,
Our virtue drives ’em o’er the field.
We love ’em by too much desert,
And oh! they fly us if we yield.
Ye gods! is there no charm in all the fair
To fix this wild, this faithless wanderer?

Man! our great business and our aim,
For whom we spread our fruitless snares,
No sooner kindles the designing flame,
But to the next bright object bears
The trophies of his conquest and our shame:
Inconstancy’s the good supreme
The rest is airy notion, empty dream!

Then heedless nymph, be rul’d by me
If e’re your swain the bliss desire;
Think like Alexis he may be
Whose wisht possession damps his fire;
The roving youth in every shade
Has left some sighing and abandon’d maid,
For ’tis a fatal lesson he has learn’d,
After fruition ne’er to be concern’d.

“To Alexis In Answer to His Poem Against Fruition” from Aphra Behn: Selected Poems, Fyfield Books Series 2003, Rutledge Publishing 

Aphra Behn (1640-1689), English poet and one of the most influential Restoration era playwrights. Her parentage remains disputed, and her early years unknown. She was a traveler; a widow; a spy for a King who then didn’t pay her, so she was thrown into debtor’s prison, then wrote her way out; and a novelist. One of the few women of her time to write under her own name and earn her living by her pen, she was vividly talented, outspokenly opinionated, self-supporting, scandalous, and legendary —Aphra Behn refused to accept the restrictions society imposed on women. She lived by her own rules, even in her last years, when illness made it difficult for her to write.


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.


by Dorothy Keeley Aldis

She says she cannot sleep, when he’s away,
Until her eyes are burning in her head
With too much reading. When he’s here she’ll say
Goodnight quite happily, and comforted
And smiling drift to sleep. It’s desolate
To be without him when it is so late.

She’s like to pray more easily to God,
For life that seemed so safe is suddenly
Cut loose and drifting like a milk-weed pod;
And she is frightened as she used to be
When she was little, and the dark was more
Than dark, and there were things behind the door.

“Panic” by Dorothy Keeley Aldis appeared in Poetry magazine’s August, 1930 issue

Dorothy Keeley Aldis (1896-1966) was born in Chicago, the youngest of four girls. Her father was managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, and her mother had been a reporter. She was educated privately, then went to Smith College for two years. Her career began at the Sunday Tribune, writing columns on decorating, pets, and personals. She married Graham Aldis in 1922, and they had four children. Dorothy Aldis began writing books of poetry and fiction for children, but also wrote poetry and short stories for adults, which were published in magazines like The New Yorker and Poetry. She wrote a biography of Beatrix Potter titled Nothing is Impossible, published posthumously in 1969.

Hanging Fire

by Audre Lorde

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

“Hanging Fire” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde,  © 1997 by the Audre Lorde Estate –  W. W. Norton & Company

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.

What Are Big Girls Made Of?

by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

“What Are Big Girls Made Of?” from Circles on the Water, © 1982 by Marge Piercy – Alfred A. Knopf

Marge Piercy (1936 – ) was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 31st. Her working-class parents were Jewish, living in a predominantly black neighborhood, where the Great Depression hit hard. She became the first in her family to go to college, on a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she joined and became an organizer for political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Anti-Vietnam War/Pro-Peace groups. She’s a feminist, a Marxist, and an environmentalist. Piercy is also a prolific writer, with almost 20 novels and 20 books of poetry published. She’s written plays, several volumes of nonfiction, a memoir, and edited the anthology Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now. Piercy also explores her Jewish heritage, and was poetry editor of Tikkun Magazine.

We Sinful Women

by Kishwar Naheed

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

“We Sinful Women” from We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry, © 1991 by Ruksana Ahmand (editor) and Kishwar Naheed – The Women’s Press

Kishwar Naheed (1940 – ) is a feminist Urdu poet and writer from Pakistan. She was born in India. Inspired by girls who were students at the Women’s College of Aligargh Muslim University in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, she was determined to go to college, but her family migrated to Pakistan after the 1949 Partition. The bloodshed and violence against women during that time made a lasting impression on her. She was a voracious reader, but struggled to get an education, as girls were not allowed to go to school in Pakistan then. She took correspondence courses and earned a high school diploma. There was a lot of family resistance to her seeking admission to college but her brother, Syed Iftikhar Zaidi, paid for her tuition and helped her continue her formal education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1959 and Master’s in Economics in 1961 from Punjab University, Lahore. Kishwar married her friend Yousuf Kamran, also a poet, and they had two sons. After her husband’s death, she worked to raise her children and support them. She has published 12 volumes of poetry in Urdu, and some of her work has been translated into other languages. “We Sinful Women” is one of her best-known poems. She has also written eight books for children, and won a prestigious UNESCO award for children’s literature. She served for a term as Director General of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.

My Wisdom

by Naomi Shihab Nye

When people have a lot
they want more

When people have nothing
they will happily share it


Some people say
never getting your way
builds character
By now our character must be
deep and wide as a continent
Africa, Australia
giant cascade of stars
spilling over our huge night


Where did the power go?
Did it enjoy its break?
Is power exhausted?
What is real power?
Who really has power?
Did the generator break?
Do we imagine silence
more powerful because
it might contain everything?
Quiet always lives
inside noise.
But does it get much done?


Silence waits
for truth to break it


Calendars can weep too
They want us to have better days


Welcome to every minute
Feel lucky you’re still in it


No bird builds a wall


Sky purse


Won’t give up
our hopes
for anything!


Not your fault
You didn’t make the world


How dare this go on and on?
cried the person who believed in praying
God willing     God willing        God willing
There were others who prayed
to ruins & stumps


Open palms
hold more


Refuse to give
too much power


Annoying person?
Person who told me to stay home
and do what other girls do?
If you disappeared
I still might miss you


Babies want to help us
They laugh
for no reason


Pay close attention to
a drop of water
on the kitchen table


You cannot say one word about religion
and exclude Ahmad

“My Wisdom” from The Tiny Journalist, © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye –
BOA Editions, Ltd.

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 has lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and now lives in San Antonio, Texas, where she earned her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.



by Nikita Gill

Remember what you must do
when they undervalue you,
when they think
your softness is your weakness
when they treat your kindness
like it is their advantage

You awaken
every dragon,
every wolf,
every monster
that sleeps inside you
and you remind them
what hell looks like
when it wears the skin
of a gentle human.

“Fire” from Wild Embers, © 2017 by Nikita Gill – Hachette Books

Nikita Gill (1987 – ), British-Indian poet, playwright, and artist, was born in Belfast to Indian parents, while her father, a merchant navy man, was preparing to take his captain’s exams at Ulster University. The family moved back to India when she was a few months old. Though she wanted to be a writer from the age of 12, when her first story was published in a newspaper, her parents encouraged her to seek a more realistic career, so she studied design at university. In 2012, she moved to the UK for her Masters, and began posting her poetry online in 2015. Though her following started with a single reader, she now has over 200,000 followers, several of them celebrities, including Alanis Morissette. Her best-known published poetry collections are Wild Embers, and Your Soul is a River.

Naming the Baby

by Yesenia Montilla

I couldn’t bring myself
to read through Breonna’s social
media but some say she believed 2020
would be her year. She even
imagined a baby growing steady
in her belly. I imagine her choosing
the baby’s name with care. Taking
all the months she had to name it
something like Pearl or V or Cheryl
There are a million baby names
to choose from the good book
but what do you name
the baby that never would be
in the year that should’ve been
yours? Do you name her
Revolution? Do you name her
A World Screaming? Do you
name her Fire? Let her burn
the house down—

“Naming the Baby” © 2021 by Yesenia Montilla – first published in Poem-a-Day, February 24, 2021, by the American Academy of 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.



About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
This entry was posted in Poetry, The Coffee Shop and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.