Strength

I hope you don’t think this is another sheep poem. Of course, it is. Of course, it isn’t.

POEM:
Strength

And here are my arms,
testaments to chores of childhood
in Midwest sun
and chosen duties of today.
They are brown
against my white thigh at night.
In the morning, I face the mirror
and raise them
to bracket my face and flex.
Lifting bales of hay
have bolstered my shoulders.
My upper arms are loaves of hardened bread.
A healing bruise from a sheep’s head
crowding in too close tattoos a bicep’s flesh.
Nicks from working fence-wire
decorate my forearm skin.
I release my pose, study my hands.
They’ve have gone to hell. A great callus
from the rake that mucks the barn
resides between forefinger and thumb.
My fingertips reek of musky lanolin.
With palms up, weight-lifter’s veins
run from wrist to elbow to armpit
near my breast. I don’t care
I’m woman. I like it like this.

Strength

Strength

ELEMENT:
Influences.

No matter who you are or what you do, you have people who have influenced you. You might not have been directly mentored by or taught by or have even talked to these people, but you base your work on their ideas in one way or another. It may be through a shared interest in a particular content, or if you’re a writer, through a propensity for a particular style or through diction selection.

Often as a writer, you are asked who your influences are. It’s a good thing to know. These people can provide guidance through studying and reflecting on their work. They are who we return to when we’re stymied about what to write or even why we’re writing at all. One of my major influences is Maxine Kumin. Maxine gives me permission to write about sheep. Why? Because she wrote about horses. And hogs. In fact, she wrote about the meat packing plant in a town, Storm Lake, Iowa, where I lived from age 10 to 18. The poem is called “The Whole Hog.” If you like pork and buy it from the grocery store where the source of it is unknown, I suggest you don’t read it.

Maxine Kumin accomplishes what the interviewer, Peter Orr, states in his interview with Sylvia Plath (see below). Orr shares that “behind the primitive, emotional reaction there must be an intellectual discipline” in creating poetry. Kumin accomplishes this. It is what I strive for, too.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

An Interview with Sylvia Plath about her writing influences.
An Interview with Maxine Kumin about her writing influences.

Let the Boys Eat First

I’ve been thinking about women lately. In particular I’ve been thinking about the young women kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram who are still missing, sold off and given away to men and living, if they are living, under the worst conditions imaginable. And I’m thinking about the Republican women in the House of Representatives who the other day voted together on the abortion bill to send their male counterparts a clear message. One group with absolutely no power and control. Another with much power and control – still not as much as their male counterparts due to numbers, but enough to make a real difference in the lives of millions of women. (If in fact that’s what this is about…). If you look at the sex ratio of men to women across the world, it looks at first glance that there are many more women. But in looking further at the breakdown of the age groups, you see a very different picture. See for yourself by clicking the titles in the Related Links section below.

“Let the Boys Eat First”

My mother’s question
today is “How are Tam’s
sons?” My sister prompts,
“She has no sons.
Only daughters.”
“No sons?” A pause
as she tries to first
believe then comprehend,
but shadows consume her.
Most days she’s in the past
with her four brothers,
or her four boys.
How could a home
exist with only daughters?
Who would eat first,
who last?

Element:
Poet Highlight: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, 1651 – 1695

You may not know the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. I didn’t. When I went looking for a woman to highlight in this section, I was thinking of Muriel Rukeyser, Alice Walker, Maxine Kumin, or someone newer to the scene such as Camille Rankine or Ana Bozicevic. Then I came across this badass nun who lived in Mexico in the 1600’s and her poetry including the poem, “You Foolish Men.” She is sometimes referred to as The Tenth Muse. Which way to the nearest convent?

Juana Ines was born about 1651 as the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish man and her Creole mother. The guy split shortly after her birth. Fortunately for Juana, her mother’s father owned an estate outside of Mexico City and they went to live with him. At the hacienda, she learned to read by sneaking books from her grandfather’s library into the chapel on the property to peruse on her own in privacy. She could read (and write, some sources say) at age 3 and by her early teens had mastered Greek and was teaching Latin to younger children before moving on to learn the Aztec language Nahuatl.

When her grandfather died, she was sent to live with an aunt in Mexico City. She knew the score there and asked permission of her family to disguise herself as a man so that she could continue her education. Permission denied, she went underground to continue her studies, doing so in private. Soon she became a lady in waiting in the colonel viceroy’s court and was put under the tutelage of Vicereine Leonor Carreto, who was one of the viceroys’ wives. Ole Leonor must have done a pretty good job. When Juana was 17, the viceroy called in a panel of experts – theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets – to ask her questions and pose problems to her that she had to answer without preparation. She astounded everyone. Later, her scientific interest and knowledge led to discussions with Isaac Newton. Or maybe we should say that Newton had the privilege of having discussions with her.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Photo from https://storify.com/khawkins1988/sor-juana-ines-de-la-cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Click here for photo credit.

Juana was a looker, too, and turned down several marriage proposals. In 1669 she entered the convent “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study.” Fortunately, the viceroy who had tested her in front of the panel and his tutor wife became her patrons and helped her amass a large collection of books (about 4000) at the convent where she spent her time reading and writing.

Juana died of the plague, which she had contracted after helping fellow sisters with the disease at the convent. Her writings, library, and musical and scientific instruments were confiscated by the church who didn’t look very favorably on her work. According to one source, her writings were saved by the vicereine. Fortunately, Vicereine Leonor Carreto must have been some kind of woman herself.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
Sex Ratio for World Population (2011)
Sex Ratio Under 15
Sex Ratio for 15 – 64 years
Sex Ratio for 65 and older