Tag Archives: relationships

The Common Women Poems 

These are vivid and inspiring portraits of women, gritty and short. I wondered how well the poet knew these women and/or if they were largely brief observations. I think they are a unique window in how to present characters in poetry or prose form. And then, who is the common woman? (There are more poems than these three and yes, I pulled them from different internet sources.)

 

The Common Women Poems              Judy Grahn

I. Ella, in a square apron, along highway 80                             

She’s a copperheaded waitress,
tired and sharp-worded, she hides
her bad brown tooth behind a wicked
smile, and flicks her ass
out of habit, to fend off the pass
that passes for affection.
She keeps her mind the way men
keep a knife—keen to strip the game
down to her size. She has a thin spine,
swallows her eggs cold, and tells lies.
She slaps a wet rag at the truck drivers
if they should complain. She understands
the necessity for pain, turns away
the smaller tips, out of pride, and
keeps a flask under the counter. Once,
she shot a lover who misused her child.
Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away. Like some isolated lake,
her flat blue eyes take care of their own stark
bottoms. Her hands are nervous, curled, ready to scrape.
The common woman is as common
as a rattlesnake.

III. Nadine, resting on her neighbor’s stoop                     

She holds things together, collects bail,

makes the landlord patch the largest holes.

At the Sunday social she would spike

every drink, and offer you half of what she knows,

which is plenty. She pokes at the ruins of the city

like an armored tank; but she thinks

of herself as a ripsaw cutting through

knots in wood. Her sentences come out

like thick pine shanks

and her big hands fill the air like smoke.

She’s a mud-chinked cabin in the slums,

sitting on the doorstep counting

rats and raising 15 children,

half of them her own. The neighborhood

would burn itself out without her;

one of these days she’ll strike the spark herself.

She’s made of grease

and metal, with a hard head

that makes the men around her seem frail.

The common woman is as common as

a nail.

IV: CAROL, IN THE PARK, CHEWING ON STRAWS    

She has taken a woman lover
whatever shall we do
she has taken a woman lover
how lucky it wasn’t you
And all the day through she smiles and lies
and grits her teeth and pretends to be shy,
or weak, or busy. Then she goes home
and pounds her own nails, makes her own
bets, and fixes her own car, with her friend.
She goes as far
as women can go without protection
from men.
On weekends, she dreams of becoming a tree;
a tree that dreams it is ground up
and sent to the paper factory, where it
lies helpless in sheets, until it dreams
of becoming a paper airplane, and rises
on its own current; where it turns into a
bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming
more free, even, than that — a feather, finally, or
a piece of air with lightning in it.
she has taken a woman lover
whatever can we say
She walks around all day
quietly, but underneath it
she’s electric;
angry energy inside a passive form.
The common woman is as common
as a thunderstorm.

Judy Rae Grahn was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was a cook and her mother was a photographer’s assistant. Grahn described her childhood as taking place in “an economically poor and spiritually depressed late 1950s New Mexico desert town near the hellish border of West Texas.” When she was eighteen, she eloped with a student named Yvonne at a nearby college. Grahn credits Yvonne with opening her eyes to gay culture. Soon thereafter she would join the United States Air Force. At twenty-one she was discharged (in a “less than honorable,” manner, she stated) for being a lesbian.

At the age of 25, Grahn suffered from Inoculation lymphoreticulosis, or Cat Scratch Fever, which led to her being in a coma. After overcoming her illness, she realized that she wanted to become a poet. This realization was partially due to the abuse and mistreatment Grahn faced for being an open lesbian. Of the incident, Grahn stated “I realized that if I was going to do what I had set out to do in my life, I would have to go all the way with it and take every single risk you could take…. I decided I would not do anything I didn’t want to do that would keep me from my art.”

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Melissa Quits School

Melissa understands that no one really has her back and that she ultimately has to make her own decisions. She starts here by stating her truths and strengthening her voice. She already has a place where feels free. I think she’s a survivor.

Melissa Quits School                                                             Lucile Burt

 

I’m not going down into that cave anymore,

that room under everything

where they stick us freaks

surrounded by storage rooms

and one hundred years of dust

caking little windows near the ceiling.

 

We’re buried under the weight

of all those rooms above us,

regular rooms with regular kids,

buried where we won’t be a bad influence.

 

Mrs. Miller says I’ll be sorry,

but I don’t care. I can’t think

down there. It’s hard to breathe

underground.

If school’s so great for my future,

what’s Mrs. Miller doing buried here

like some sad dead bird

teaching freaks

and smelling like booze every morning?

 

I may be stupid, but I know this:

outside there’ll be light and air

and I won’t feel like I’m dying.

Outside, someone will pay when I work,

give me a coffee break when I can smoke.

No one will say “where’s your pass?”

Sandy and Tina won’t dance away from me,

sidestepping like I’m poison ivy,

and boys won’t try to pry me open.

Steve won’t be hanging on me,

wanting me

to take a couple of hits before class,

wanting me

to cut class to make love,

even though it’s really screwing

and he calls it “making love”

so I’ll do it and he can brag later.

 

I may be stupid, but I know this:

even just a little light and air

can save your life.

That shark Steve thinks he owns me,

but I know this:

when we cruise in his car

so he can show off his Chevy and me

him looking out the window all the time,

going nowhere, just cruising,

I’m there ’cause we’re moving.

I’m there alone with Tori Amos,

singing her sad true songs,

leaning my head back,

watching the streetlights come and go,

each flash lighting my face

for a minute in the dark.

 

 

Family Stories

Who can forget some of the times we saw anger expressed as a child? I come from a family that yelled at each other and at times there was brutal physical punishment. My husband comes from a family where, in particular, his mother punished with silence. His father covered everything with cheerful chatter. How people express anger is of interest to me. It is also exciting to me to imagine the the sight of the cake in the poem on it’s journey. See below! And to end with a question: How much do stereotypes of ethnicity influence how we express emotions?

Family Stories                                                                        Dorianne Laux

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,

how an argument once ended when his father

seized a lit birthday cake in both hands

and hurled it out a second-story window. That,

I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger

sent out across the sill, landing like a gift

to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine

it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,

and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed

the people in his stories really loved one another,

even when they yelled and shoved their feet

through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle

of cheap champagne, christening the wall,

rungs exploding from their holes.

I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury

of the passionate. He said it was a curse

being born Italian and Catholic and when he

looked from that window what he saw was the moment

rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous

three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship

down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk

deep in the icing, a few still burning.

 

Salon

This poem is a powerful tribute to ritual and its meaning in our lives. It has a powerful and tender ending.

Salon                                                                                                  Robin Becker

 

Acolyte at the font, my mother

bends before basin and hose

where Jackie soaps her fine head,

adjusting pressure and temperature.

How many times has she

bared her throat, her clavicle,

beside the other old women?

How many times the regular

cleansing and surrender to the cold chair,

the sink, the detergents, the lights,

the slick of water down the nape?

Turbaned and ready,

she forgoes the tray of sliced bagels

and donuts, a small, private dignity.

 

Vivienne, the manicurist, dispels despair,

takes my mother’s old hands into her swift

hands and soaks them to soften

the cuticles before the rounding and shaping.

As they talk my mother attends

to the lifelong business of revealing

and withholding, careful to frame each story

while Vivienne lacquers each nail

and then inspects each slender finger,

rubbing my mother’s hands

with the fragrant, thin lotion,

each summarizing her week, each

condemning that which must be condemned,

each celebrating the manicure and the tip.

 

Sometimes in pain, sometimes broken

with grief in the parking lot,

my mother keeps her Friday appointment

time protected now by ritual and tradition.

 

The fine cotton of Michael’s white shirt

brushes against her cheek as they stare

into the mirror at one another.

Ennobled by his gaze, she accepts

her diminishment, she who knows herself

his favorite. In their cryptic language

they confide and converse, his hands busy

in her hair, her hands quiet in her lap.

Barrel-chested, Italian, a lover of opera,

he husbands his money and his lover, Ethan;

only with him may she discuss my lover and me,

and in this way intimacy takes the shape

of the afternoon she passes in the salon,

in the domain of perfect affection.

All the Hemispheres

About two weeks ago I met Daniel Ladinsky in Abiquiu, New Mexico where he was one of three poets at a poetry reading.  He’s a translator of the works of  both Rumi and Hafiz and has a remarkable ability to quote passages from both.  He was generous in many ways:  in the words he drew forth and in signing and sharing his books with us, or listening to our stories.  It was a very moving evening. He stayed nearby us at Ghost Ranch, so we saw him at breakfast and lunch the next day.  This Hafiz poem is one of his translations, enjoyed by five of my writing classes this week.  I’d like to note  some of his particular word choices:  watermark, soul, and campfire.  See below, enjoy the details!

All the Hemispheres                                                                                    Hafiz

Leave the familiar for a while. Let your senses

and bodies stretch out

 

like a welcomed season onto the meadows and

shores and hills.

 

Open up to the roof. Make a new watermark

on your excitement and love.

 

Like a blooming night flower, bestow your vital

fragrance of happiness and giving upon our

intimate assembly.

 

Change rooms in your mind for a day. All the

hemispheres in existence lie beside an equator

in your soul.

 

Greet yourself in your thousand other forms as

you mount the hidden tide and travel back home.

 

All the hemispheres in heaven are sitting around

a campfire chatting while

 

stitching themselves together into the great circle

inside of you.

Catherine Parrill’s Memoir

photo

Everyone has a different process when they are writing.  Cathy has been working on a memoir about her connection to Haiti and some of the important relationships & life changing experiences. Her "scroll" otherwise known as a  huge roll  of brown paper holds a visual map and some of the paper or resources that document the story as well.  In class we've been privileged to be part of story -seeing it develop and to meet some of people in it.
Everyone has a different process when they are writing. Cathy has been working on a memoir about  Haiti and her time there, and some of the important relationships she developed, and life changing experiences she lived, and is living. Her “scroll” otherwise known as a huge roll of brown paper holds a visual map of  the story and some of the papers or resources that document the story as well. In class we’ve been privileged and delighted to become part of the  story -seeing it come together and to meet some of people in it.