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|
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.
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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