Women’s History Month 2019: Poets, Poems, Art

Jeanie Tomanek, Were I But Whole

Angela Narciso Torres

Pantoum with Lines from Lucille Clifton

It’s a long time after, and I just wanted to know.
What was it like on the boat?
I wonder what became of our Mama?
And they would just rock and rock.

What was it like on the boat?
Oh slavery, slavery, my Daddy would say.
And they would just rock and rock.
Even the good parts was awful.

Oh slavery, slavery, my Daddy would say.
In history, even the lies are true.
Even the good parts was awful.
She walked from New Orleans to Virginia. Eight years old.

In history, even the lies are true.
Slavery was terrible but we fooled them.
She walked from New Orleans to Virginia. Eight years old.
We come out of it better than they did.

Slavery was terrible but we fooled them.
Don’t let nobody tell you them old people was dumb.
We come out of it better than they did.
Things don’t fall apart. Things hold.

Don’t let nobody tell you them old people was dumb.
Our lives are more than the days in them.
Things don’t fall apart. Things hold.
I only wanted to find out about these things.

Our lives are more than the days in them.
I wonder what became of our Mama?
I only wanted to find out about these things.
It’s a long time after, and I just wanted to know.

[In the tradition of the cento, all lines of this poem come from the memoir section of the source text: Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions, New York, 1987). Italics in the text of the poem indicate speech. Reprinted with permission of the poet from New Ohio Review Online.]

Jeanie Tomanek, One Good Reason

Risa Denenberg

“Body of well-known naturalist found in river”

A woman wanders to escape. Her noetic life has dwindled
          down to grandchildren she never sees and a failure to remember
their names. She retains an ossified memory of the taxonomy of birds,
          but has lost her car keys for the last time. She miss-mates the buttons
on her flannel jacket. There is no one to straighten it or care,
          no one to straighten her affairs — 

not the trysts of mid-life, but the sort that bury you under piles of junk
          in your seventies. Physically, she is strong with steady heart
and unburnt lungs; she can hike for hours wielding a hand-carved
          walking stick, backpack not a burden, canvas for shade or to lie upon,
enough water for a day. She roams the path along the river where she knows
          the flora and the pitch of bird calls.

The once-weekly chat with her daughter came this morning
          at ten. She no longer looks forward to these calls, but does her best
to fake it. Pleasantries were tendered and repaid. No hint
          was given of any plan or prayer. In the river, tiny eyelets open
within eddies as she slides from bank to current with a splash.
          She is a perfect pear-shaped sea-bound droplet.

Found headline: “Body of well-known naturalist found in river” Bangor Daily News, 8/7/11.

[Originally published at Autumn Sky Daily (2015)]

Jeanie Tomanek, Stars in Her Crown

Maureen E. Doallas

Remembering Martha
“There’s a special providence in the fall
of a sparrow,” Hamlet knew, but who ever
augured for the future of the passenger
pigeon? Martha was the last of her kind,
and having watched George die in 1910,
spent her next four years alone, feathers
collecting in a cigar box at Cincinnati Zoo.
She lived not three decades, celebrity, dead
at twenty-nine. Her body, frozen in three
hundred pounds of ice, was shipped east
by train, denied even that journey by air.
Mounted, stuffed, and calm atop her branch
on display in Bird Hall, she claimed a new
if sedentary role, just one among thousands
of treasures in our nation’s great attic.
When a building was named in her honor,
she went all the way first class, her flight
attendant careful not to rattle her gilded cage.

Jeanie Tomanek, Up Against It

Luisa A. Igloria 

Frog Test

In early spring, the frogs begin their nightly
chorus at the river’s hem— which makes me think
of how, back in the day, one did not simply walk
into a drugstore to buy a pregnancy kit, the little
stick you took into a bathroom where you waited

anxiously to see if not one but two vertical
pink stripes darkened the see-through window:
proof that ovulation had occurred, that HCG
was present in urine, that now you carried
more than a shadow in your womb. Instead,

there was what was called the “frog test:”
weeks waiting for a period that didn’t come—
so you collected a sample of morning pee
in a plastic vial; the OB-Gyn sent it to
a “frog lab.” Somewhere, technicians injected

a little bit of urine into the hind leg of a female
African clawed frog. In the morning, if the water
in the tank was filmy with speckled eggs, bingo,
the result was positive— And this is how
the doctor confirmed I was pregnant with

my second child. I walked slowly back
from her clinic to the car, wondering
how to break the news of another child soon
to feed, to my unemployed (now ex-) husband
and my father waiting there— I didn’t have

long to wait for the outburst of my ex-,
but didn’t predict the explosion would take place
after he’d started the car and we were in the thick
of traffic. All those eyes fixed on us, the honking,
the cursing, the sticky mess when, overtaken

by some ticking rage, he struck the steering wheel
with the flat of his palm, kicked the driver’s side
door open and left it swinging as he stormed away
in rage. Some people helped us push the car to a nearby
gas station parking lot. The rest of it, I can’t

remember now. At some point he came back; until
the time we broke up, we continued to live under my parents’
roof, where eight months later I had that child and one more
daughter I also cared for five years after. The female frog
lays as many as 20,000 eggs. The male frog climbs on her back

and fertilizes the eggs as they are laid. The female
gives the eggs a thick jelly-like coating but other
than that, male and female frogs leave the mass
of eggs floating on the water’s surface, on
their own to fend for themselves from there.

Jeanie Tomanek, Thicket

Maureen Alsop

The sentient wrote seven times loose italic drafts matted in silverfish. On saline.

You would not wait as the horses’ chest stiffened the pine’s shade for the blue eclipse, for conscription, a carriage as Jet Ski across the burnt bay. Feather chandelier overhead—a cloud-dress — an ever-singular carousel this tideway.

They spoke for guidance to each ship that paused: Search, Tanker, Navy. Slow but not slowly I wander our last country. Foreigner I am what’s given. Until a single Sunfish sail pierced the corner of my left eye. No mistake the coral-map. No mistake alveoli in slipknot. Told me you were who. No mistake. A scar smudged every quill.

Your short hand is braided — as when we sat, backs to the windowsill

where the sun-dappled spruce bleached the rug and spun the room’s island into archipelago. We speak again once in open arrival.

P.S. No kidding. My favorite hobbies are archery and stamp collecting.[1]

And lumens titrate a prairie’s unmet constellation, beyond which stagnant boots cloud the gnats, motes infiltrate the nightcurtain, consume the valley’s F-rocks as a withholding of mire; where F is fenestrate, a tumbleweed event-horizon.

[1] This is a sentence/question taken from the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), It would seriously be nice if I were good at archery. I do have a few cool stamps.

[This was written in response Hillary Gravendyk’s Soluble Hour.]

Jeanie Tomanek, Tangent

Ren Powell

Tableau Vivant, with the Baroness Who Gassed Herself in the End or More of the Dead Girl Trope

In this image, I am

in a state of high tension 
one woman among men 
among men who want 
men—and here I am
in a state of high tension 
like in my mother’s asylum, when the doctors 
with their nimble fingers 
treated my hysteria too, my French malady
and I—

just like my mother, the butcher’s wife
she’s dead and I am 
in a state of high tension 
this hyperactive freeze 
this strange discord—aren’t I
beautiful? Object. Sex object 
not wanted, adored—oh! 
for god’s sake, touch me! 
Do I shock you in my pursuit?
Pursuing? Purrs. Purr, and bite. 
All want. All want and orifice. I am Mutt
I am the object, the lover they want not to want
and that they leave 
in a state of high tension
when they turn to each other
and I am jealous of their sex-objectivity 
their ownership, independence 
I need
(mother and me—we need, ache, unfinished
with a heavy-chested racing of the heart
that pinches instead of beats with the damned
promise of release that never comes for me)
their adoration set me up here on this pedestal
keeps me up here cold as marble wanting
more because it is intense
and familiar, like fear 
(When did they start gassing pigs? They slaughter the cattle, gas the pigs)
I would write him a screaming poem, a sex poem to bring him back 
from wherever he is—my man with men who chokes me off
with his tight thighs and his prudish disgust for fluids 
for what is wet
This is what I came to talk about without words, without sound 
But that tight ringing single note of your disgust—why?
when you envy my jawline? This want is what you wanted 
to call weak
but it is not—this body you assumed was a field of clover is
resilient, yes, but I am the moor, my love, 
I am the suck of the earth that disgusts you. 
I should have married a butcher, too, to break me down into my basic needs
sex without dis-ease—dis-connected, dis-placed, dis-concerning
I can deconstruct this work of art into its functional bits—a dis-functional wo-man
into sex objects.

[On Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) from the playtext Sex-object.]

Women in History at EIL

International Women’s Day at EIL

International Women’s Day (excerpts & links) at EIL


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