Holidays over now and that vacation dream world reverses back to every day life–useful, sometimes exciting movement in writing anything and renewed enthusiasm for the pile of books by the desk, overflowing to the floor by the bed. Found a poem by Marge Piercy that reminded me of who I have been and who I have become as a result of following the wisdom of this poem, plus how much writing poetry feeds me, my personal growth, so many other things about me as a human being living on the planet WITH other human beings as opposed to apart from them. Piercy speaks to those times when our separation with self first, then with others only provides the facade of strength, not real strength.
For Strong Women
A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.”
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.
A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead?
A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.
For a Woman
I’m afraid but not afraid like a coward, afraid to become the pillar of salt or the empty vessel. Not the empty vessel that buddhist’s go on about but the vessel that never lets anything stay in it for long, a thing that yearns for a state of no-thing, no – think, one of those states that appear carefree but is shallow, instead, restless often. And the bitch, ugly girl, nag, shrill, witch, ballbuster leaves me pale and wondering. An afternoon of staring, stunned as a fly swatted for the first time, missing the killing swat, and by the moments lived just to pass the time, is enough. Like an orphan standing at the window waiting, the quiet day fills up as time always does. Clouds lower in the sky blocking the light, and the moody rim of a chalk white roof rises to meet the clouds pushing back the muted glare.
I’m afraid to move forward or to stay still. Afraid to expand my experience of the world, and afraid to misinterpret the experiences I’ve had, paralyzing both perception and future exploration. Even so, I give in at last, letting go of the images of restraint that seem real but never are. It only requires that I take the step forward, rely on the community I made, and let myself be afraid as I face down the imagined foes.
Strong women have been around for centuries. We are fashioned from whole cloth, our wounds weaved in as the gaudy scars and imperfections that made us. These intricate patterns reflect our revealing shapes, our numerous voices. I went to a women’s group recently and listened to them talking about themselves, each with her unique take on a related topic like Piercy’s. What I saw over and over again in their sharing was their beauty; it was never the physical that really shined (as I had been taught growing up).