Karen J. Weyant Wearing Heels


A mini-review of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, by Karen J. Weyant, by Escape Into Life poetry editor, Kathleen Kirk. Art by Casey Weldon.

Karen J. Weyant’s chapbook Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt recreates a whole world of rust and steel, cigarettes, hard work, beer, car parts, dust, and wildflowers. She knows the names of the moon—blood moon, hunter’s moon, wolf moon—and the weight of the sun beating down in a dry spell.

In this world girls collect roadkill treasures—“groundhog teeth, a set of claws, soft wisps/ of a rabbit’s tail”—and practice wearing heels “balancing on construction planks, / railroad ties, backporch banisters” as rites of passage.

The book is flecked with red throughout—rust itself, the red high heels on the cover, “blood seeping under my fingernails,” a red moon that is really pink, red nail polish, even “a peeling sunburn as blush” instead of makeup. In fact, the opening poem, “Ways of Writing Rust,” insists, “Use a red pen.” Weyant’s images of a childhood in the rust belt are indeed indelible.

Reading this book in the current hard economic times, I was struck by the poem “Sacrificing Scabs to the Union Gods” in which the child speaker learns a new definition for scabs, once “hard patches / of skin filled with old blood” but now “people who had crossed some line.” The child grown up can still remember two classmates, children of scabs, who were bullied and shunned at recess.

I know they are both still standing there
in the dust of the paved playground.
He rubs a cut on his elbow, wipes dirt
from his face. She holds a jump rope,
limp in her hands. And I wait,
my hands clasped at my waist, refusing
to help untangle the knots, refusing to find
another girl to help turn the rope.

This frozen moment catches the anger of hard times, the speaker’s regret and late compassion. It reminds me of the polarization in our country now, the political impasse, people “refusing to help” solve the problem because they have to take a stand, even if they sense the unfairness of misplaced blame and recognize their own lack of empathy. It makes me sad.

But there’s plenty of true grit in this dusty, rusty world. People get jobs and better jobs. Girls grow up on their wobbly heels into women who can balance on a rail. And even the “Roadkill Girls” are “princesses, wearing cockleburs / as crowns, blue chicory for corsages.” They grow up regal and brave, full of hope:

…At the end of each day,
we whisked our treasures home, decorated
our rooms. The skulls on our dressers
never scared us, even when a jaw curved
into a smile or the empty eye sockets all winked.
With every bone, we planned our new world,
starting with a single rib from a raccoon.

You can read more of Karen Weyant’s poems at her EIL feature, and she talks about her book and her background as a guest blogger here. You can find the book here, at Main Street Rag.