Okay, I lied, I have two poems. Because why should I only have to choose one? They are taken from “My Mother’s Body,” published in 1985 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The first time I read Marge Piercy was during freshman year of high school in my advanced literary arts class. One of my teachers who smiled only when she meant it and rotated the same 6 outfits, tossed Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” face-up onto our desks. It wasn’t a pretty sight. After a quick scan, no one really wanted to read it aloud. I mean come on, in a mere two lines there were the words, “pee-pee.” Some beautified dead girl in a coffin — the societal error that we place so much value on a woman’s beauty during a time of life where everyone is being assessed and measured by everyone for mostly the wrong reasons is a startling image to start to class out with.
The poem certainly grabbed me by my throat, but it didn’t necessarily make me want to cannonball into her poetry. I read it for the class because that’s what good little students do. I gave the cut up dead girl a moment of silence and moved onto the next assignment.
Apparently it meant more to me than I realized. (I’m starting to notice this trend a lot more often lately).
It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I was able to look Marge back in the honest face. I know plenty of undercover feminists and plenty who are out in plain sight. I thought it was unfair that I had to give myself a disclaimer at all. A do not fuck with me card. A do not fuck me card. The common misconception, of course.
But here I am at 25 reading and finding her poetry comforting during a time in my life where I’m realizing that not only am I a loving and kind woman, I know how to kick some ass… that ass being my own ass to get the stuff that I want done — emotionally, professionally, physically, what have you. Remembering that during the mornings when I’m slouched over another Facebook post about the next person whisking off to get married or whatever, is especially pertinent. Or when I’m stewing in a personalized pile of pity, with my voice lodged in the back of my throat. I know that’s the bloody mouthed fear talking. The oozing leftover pain from lifetimes ago that sometimes feel like yesterday. Sometimes gaining self-awareness really is a bitch to deal with. Where’s the relief?
People with similar experiences who know how to reach you. Thanks for reaching me, Marge. I hear you loud and clear.
All of these poems are about being a woman who chooses a life of meaning, who isn’t afraid to hurt or offend. The meaning isn’t found in the grand, overdressed big ones, as you might expect, but in cleaning (or not) the house, list making, going through memories, sleeping next to someone, writing a will, caring for a litter of kittens, getting a pap smear, drinking a glass of wine. She can make a housefly come to life. She’s got quite a bite, but just smolders under certain lights. This writer has an extensive, astounding vocabulary. I enjoy the way she describes color and taste… Check out her poems about wine and see what she can do with RED.
I also connected to the way she described her mother and her relation to her mother’s life after death through her own coming to terms. That this collection is dedicated to her mother, shows her fierce need to understand and accept her for what she was and lacked. Only speaking truthfully about a parent will ever do this person and your relation to them justice. This collection gives me a fur ball (because Piercy REALLY loves cats) of hope.
Here are two poems that really resonated with me. One is about being in a relationship and truly knowing a person, which she argues isn’t the point of a relationship. The other is about being a being a fierce writer who captures “the goodness” in a world where the most established are the ones who get to decide what’s “good” work. Her version of goodness is beyond good.
Witnessing a wedding
Slowly and slower you have learned
to let yourselves grow while weaving
through each other in strong cloth.
It is not strangeness in the mate
you must fear, and not the fear
that loosens us so we lean back
chilly with a sudden draft on flesh
recently joined and taste again
the other sharp as tin in the mouth,
but familiarity we must mistrust,
the word based on the family
that fogs the sight and plugs the nose.
Fills the ears with the wax of possession.
Toughens the daily dead skin
callused against penetration.
Never think you know finally, or say
My husband likes, My wife is,
without balancing the coil of the inner ear
that no one is surely anything till dead.
Love without respect is cold as a boa
constrictor, its caresses as choking.
Celebrate your differences in bed.
Like species, couples die out or evolve.
Ah strange new beasties with strawberry hides,
velvet green antlers, undulant necks,
tentacles, wings and the sense of bees,
your own changing mosaic of face
and the face of the stranger you live with
and try to love, who enters your body
like water, like pain, like food.
The good go down
I build stories. They own
their own shapes, their rightful
power and impetus, plot
them however I try, but always
that shape is broadly just.
I want to believe in justice
inexorable as the decay
of an isotope; I want to plot
the orbit of justice, erratic
but inevitable as a comet’s return.
It is not blind chance I rail at,
the flood waters that carry off
one house and leave its neighbor
standing one foot above the high
water’s swirling grasp.
It is that the good go down
not easily, not gently,
not occasionally, not by random
deviation and the topple
of mischance, but almost always.
Here is something new and true.
No you are too different,
too raw, too spiced and gritty.
We want one like the last one.
We know how to sell that.
We want one that praises us,
we want one that puts down
the ones we squat on, no
aftertaste, no residue of fine
thought smeared on the eyes.
We want one just like all
the others, but with a designer
label and a clever logo.
We want the one we saw advertised
in the New York Times.
Are the controls working?
Is the doorman on duty?
Is the intercom connected?
Is the monitor functioning?
Is the incinerator on?
It goes without saying:
The brie shall be perfectly
ripe, the wine shall be a second
cru Bordeaux from a decent year,
there shall be one guest
with a recent certified success
and we shall pass around plates
of grated contempt for those
who lack this much, of sugared
envy for those who have more.
For the young not facile enough
to imitate the powerful, not skilled
enough liars to pretend sucking them
is ecstasy, they erect a massive
wall, the Himalayas of exclusion.
For the old who speak too much
of pain, they have a special
Greenland of exile. Old Birnbaum.
Nobody reads her anymore.
I thought she was dead.
Once she is, and her cat
starves, she will become a growth
industry. Only kill yourself
and you can be consumed too,
an incense-proffered icon.
It is the slow mean defeat
of the good that I rail against,
the small pallid contempt of the well
placed for those who do no lack
the imaginative power to try,
the good who are warped by passion
as granite is twisted into mountains
and metamorphosed by fire into marble;
who speak too loud in vulgar tongues
because they have something to say;
who mean what they make down to their
bones; who commit the uncouth error
of feeling, of saying what they feel,
of making others feel. Their reward
is to be made to feel worthless.
Goodness is not dangerous enough.
I want goodness like a Nike armed
with the warhead of rightful anger.
I want goodness that can live on sand
and stones and wring wine from burrs,
goodness that can put forth fruit,
manured with the sewage of hatred.
The good must cultivate their anger
like fields of wheat that must feed
them, if they are ever to win.