Thursday, June 08, 2006

 

Fierce and Beautiful, the Human Body

I've been reading Vivid Companion by Irene McKinney, a former poet laureate of West Virginia who deserves to be better known. The poems are fierce and unforgiving. I love their anger, their ambivalence toward the body, even in their deep sensuality. Here's a poem about breasts that gives us the tomboy's anger, shame, and resistance without apology:


Covering Up

When I saw that I would have breasts
and that they wanted me to cover them up,
I took my shirt off and tied it around my waist
and stomped out into the yard.

I was so furious that no one stopped me;
not my mother, who thought I was acting crazy,
not my father, out working in the hayfield,
not my brother, who thought it was a game,

Not my sister, who thought I was acting-out,
who thought I was crazy. I was crazy.
For three days I stalked around and stomped,
refusing the wear a shirt. They all said

"Cover up" and to cover up made me feel weak.
I wasn't weak: I was damned if I'd pretend,
I was damned. They were two badges on my chest,
each of them saying "This is me."

First the nipples plumped up and turned
from pale pink to dusky rose.
They were two eyes seeing things
my other eyes couldn't see.

Then they rounded out, and ached.
They wondered what was going on,
getting ready for the long story;
nursing mouths, kisses, suckles.

Later, I would stand in the bathroom
with my arms raised painfully
while my husband wrapped a wet towel
tightly around them to bring down the swelling

of too much milk. Later, I would stand
at the lingerie counter and choose a black
lace bra. Later, I would change back
to white cotton. Later, I would burn them.

But that week when I was eleven
I wanted it to be solved. I wanted it to be over.
I took a hoe from the shed and stood bare breasted
outside and beat the hoe to splinters

on the trunk of the maple. I knew it wasn't over
but I was exhausted. I would have to enjoy
not covering up in secret. That's when
I began to speak in my head as the naked one,

And the other went clothed into the world.


Read more poems from Vivid Companion (I especially love "At 24") here.

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