Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, April 02, 2014 27 comments
by Marge Piercy (1936 —)

A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
but I've never seen wheat in a pile.
Apples, potatoes, cabbages, carrots
make lumpy stacks, but you are sleek
as a seal hauled out in the winter sun.
I can see you as a great goose egg
or a single juicy and fully ripe peach.
You swell like a natural grassy hill.
You are symmetrical as a Hopewell mound,
photo by Karpati Gabor, morguefile.com
with the eye of the navel wide open,
the eye of my apple, the pear's port
window. You're not supposed to exist
at all this decade. You're to be flat
as a kitchen table, so children with
roller skates can speed over you
like those sidewalks of my childhood
that each gave a different roar under
my wheels. You're required to show
muscle striations like the ocean
sand at ebb tide, but brick hard.
Clothing is not designed for women
of whose warm and flagrant bodies
you are a swelling part. Yet I confess
I meditate with my hands folded on you,
a maternal cushion radiating comfort.
Even when I have been at my thinnest,
you have never abandoned me but curled
round as a sleeping cat under my skirt.
When I spread out, so do you. You like
to eat, drink and bang on another belly.
In anxiety I clutch you with nervous fingers
as if you were a purse full of calm.
In my grandmother standing in the fierce sun
I see your cauldron that held eleven children
shaped under the tent of her summer dress.
I see you in my mother at thirty
in her flapper gear, skinny legs
and then you knocking on the tight dress.
We hand you down like a prize feather quilt.
You are our female shame and sunburst strength.

source: PoemHunter.com

This piece by living poet Marge Piercy is a form called apostrophe--poetry addressed to an absent person, or to an idea or object; in this case, a belly swollen because of pregnancy. Many of Piercy's poems focus on female experience and feminist causes. She uses lots of sound devices, like off-rhyme (curled /... skirt), consonance ("ripe peach") and assonance ("sleek / as a seal"). In free verse like this, the words sounds poetic together without the sing-song feeling you can get with strictly metered and rhymed formal verse of ages past.

I admire Piercy's ability to mix humor with a deeper meditation on female embodiment. These lines speak to the pressure put on women to be model-thin that's at odds with motherhood, and the natural changes that accompany it: "You're not supposed to exist / at all this decade. You're to be flat  / as a kitchen table, so children with  / roller skates can speed over you." The irony here is quite pointed. How can children exist to roller skate if it weren't for mothers with non-flat bellies?

What lines or images strike you?

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27 comments:

  1. Hello, nice to meet you, Laurel. Looks like my daughters Belly. Expecting first grandchild this month.

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    1. And it's a beautiful thing, right? Wishing her a safe delivery and you a joyous adventure in grandparenthood.

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  2. An interesting take on one of life's greatest miracles. Thanks for stopping by my blog and happy A to Z'ing to you, too :)

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    1. Thanks for coming by! I guess you gentlemen only get to experience this belly swell phenomenon second hand.

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  3. '...your cauldron that held eleven children'. My mother had eleven children. How did she do it. I'm worn out after four! This is great. I can see the flapper skirt and skinny legs. :)

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    1. It's amazing to me that anyone has more than two or three. Your mother must be an incredibly strong person.

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  4. Oh I adore everything Piercy writes! I saw her once, years ago, in Halifax. Nice to meet you through the A to Zed (as we call it in Canada). I will be back.

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    1. It was hard to pick just one piece to feature, true. Thanks for coming by!

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  5. We hand you down like a prize feather quilt.
    You are our female shame and sunburst strength.

    Wow. The whole thing is beautiful.


    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. Thanks, Brandon. I'm glad you weren't scared off by this very feminine-centric piece.

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  6. "Yet I confess
    I meditate with my hands folded on you,
    a maternal cushion radiating comfort."
    At eight and a half months pregnant with my first child this is something I do daily. I love this. It is so beautiful and, as you can imagine, so timely for me!!

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    1. I'm glad it was so timely for you. It is beautifully expressed. Good luck with your new little one-to-be.

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  7. It inspires such a warming perspective :)

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    1. Taking the time to do something like this--think about a particular body part and write about it, to it, might just shift one's perspective I suspect.

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  8. I liked your analysis of the poem, made it much more interesting! Thanks, Laurel, and good luck with the Challenge this month.

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    1. Thanks Karen. It's not an entirely cute, fun piece, but also has flashes of ironic wit to make a point.

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  9. Wonderful poem and great analysis. Learned something new. Thanks.

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    1. Glad to hear it. Thanks for coming by!

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  10. Thank for introducing me to this poet. That is a gorgeous piece. I tried to go back and pick one favorite line, but it has so many wonderful turns of phrase. May need to add this to my "to memorize" list.

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    1. True. I'm pretty enamored with "purse full of calm," but there are lots of other great lines too. Thanks for visiting!

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  11. This piece is beautiful. I hadn't read her before. I also hadn't seen you blog before, so I'm glad the A to Z Challenge brought me by. The bit that has stuck with me is, "In anxiety I clutch you with nervous fingers
    as if you were a purse full of calm."
    I'll be stopping by again, I'm sure. Aloha!

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    1. Nice to meet you too, Tamara. I also loved the line about "purse full of calm."

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  12. I love Marge Piercy's work! I especially love her book, The Moon is Always Female.
    However - I didn't read this as necessarily a pregnant belly. To me, it was more about how women feel about their tummies all the time - it is both a source of shame and strength.
    And thanks for your comment on my Classics Club post at Books Aplenty

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    1. That's a great insight, Amanda. Pregnancy is a prominent image here, but there are definitely other seasons of life represented, all focused on the tummy.

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  13. I really loved those last two lines :)

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    1. Powerful indeed. Thanks for visiting!

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  14. WOW! Thank you for sharing :) - the pregnant belly is beauty like none other :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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