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I believe it is a woman thing. Choking. We choke up. We choke when we laugh too hard. Or cry. We choke on our food. Or I do. Laughing and eating has led to food or drink flying straight across the table from my mouth to the face of my date. I remember this happening one time, and it was when I was out with my soon to be husband, and it came to be a favorite memory of ours, my spitting beer all over him. But he was funny. And I was laughing.

Vinegar makes me choke, so I don’t eat pickled things. I was never a great fan, and as I grew older, it seemed to take on a glue-like ability and could close my throat. There I sat, eating a nice big salad, all dressed and pretty, oil and balsamic, and boom, my little epiglottis failed to flap, or perhaps it was flapping like crazy in reaction to the burn of the vinegar, and the air wasn’t getting to the throat, and then of course, panic set in, arms up overhead, big breaths through the nose, attempts at coughing (because you know, if you can cough, you can breathe), and then, whew, everything calms down, and I breathe again. Thirty seconds of terror.

I eat pretty salads dressed only with olive oil now.

Choking – I believe it is a woman thing, and yes, sure, it is a man’s, too, but I don’t know of that. I know that women choke, far too often, on their words. Tiny expressions created by bits of air, invisible things, words are, and they get lodged, like carrots or bones or vinegar, back behind our tongues, impeding our breath, increasing our heart rate, and most importantly, halting our voice. Stopped. Halted. Frozen. Speechless.

We choke. As a gender we choke. As a workforce we choke. Even as professional speakers or writers we choke. As if our voices are in an early stage of evolution, not fully formed or having achieved all the muscles and gumption they need. When we know all the parts are there, always have been, but men have been our chicken bones, perhaps.We have been each other’s vinegar, perhaps. And, I promise, after a few episodes of 30 second choking terror, I stopped eating vinegar, and it was easy. Do we do that to each other? Stop each other. Serve as each other’s vinegar? Women grew quiet.Grow quiet. Still. Stop talking. Habitually. For too long. We choke.

Riana choked recently around how to ask for time off from her part time job. Bridget choked when the effects of an unwritten contract were the opposite of what she’d hoped. I choked when the creepy wood delivery guy brought the not cord of wood late at night, in the dark. That was his sting. He called and called and texted saying he’d be later and later. Then shows up in the dark. I was in bed. I dressed and met him at the gate with a flashlight. He was nice enough. He had a cute dog, and a very quiet partner. I never felt in danger. But it didn’t look like a cord. No, I KNEW IT WAS NOT  CORD. And I choked.

I said these words as I handed him the full amount of cash, instead of the half he earned. I said, “This looks like half a cord.” BUT I handed him all the money.

I choked.

Why?

When I burn the wood, when I gather it, when I split  it, every time, I wonder why. Why did this dweeby little creepy guy who blew me off the night before and didn’t show up, then showed late and in the dark, and swore it was a cord when it was obvious that it was not, why did he make me choke? Why did I not use my voice and say, ‘no, this is not a cord, and here is half the cash. Deliver the rest of the wood, you get the rest of the money.’

Was I avoiding conflict? Was I afraid of violence? Did I fear hurting his feelings? Was it late and I was annoyed, tired, and uncertain? Did I feel too stupid because I realized I had been scammed. It was the best price on craigslist, so I went for it. He had been kind with each call. Each call. The whole game. Show up late, in the dark, tell them it’s a cord, take your cash, and turn off your phone for a few weeks.

Hook, line, sinker. A pussy grab. A pink slip. A slap. A late night firewood delivery.

I work daily, for myself, for my girls, to avoid vinegar, to find my voice, over and over again. To keep it. To use it. Not throw it away. Not bury it. Not choke. Centuries of vinegar rest beside women’s epligottises. We have to put our hands up over our heads. Together. Cough. Cough again. And then speak.

Years ago, while working on my masters in creative writing, and before the internet and all of its access was readily available, I took on the task of writing a paper on Peruvian female poets (poetas) as I had just traveled to Peru, and climbed Machu Picchu, and was thrilled with the culture, and I wanted more. I was stunned and saddened by how little I could find, as if having a vagina and rhythm and passion was an unheard of combination in Peru, and then Chile. I dug and dug, and I found bits and pieces, but my paper became more about the poets I couldn’t find than the ones that I did. I ended up writing a poem, too. Oh, and now, information on these poetas is more available, with images, too.

s-america-poetsQuiet Women Silenced

Poetas sing softly
from the southern hemisphere.
Varela, Peruana,
silenced by her gender.

Mistral, Chilena,
won a prize, glorified,
now her whisper rests
lightly on silence.

Portal, Storni, Rosa . . .
How many other
“poetas hispanicas” hide
in bottom shelf anthologies
on paper sealed
with sorrow, books
closed by oppression,
published by spies.

I want to release you.
Put you on free pages, PBS,
bind you with soft covers.
In a library too empty of you
the echos turn my stomach,
I want to scream you into
the dark aisles.
I want your warm hands
on my womb. I want
your voice, deep within
me. I want to bleed
with you each full moon.

Touch me. Rub
your fingers like ink
and sweat all over
my unexposed skin,
and tell me it’s not true,
there is no exile,
no disappearing,
no hiding,
no dead poets,
and no raped ones.

Meet me with a murmur,
a moment, a whisper.
I’ll breath your pain
and read
your escaped words
again and again and again.

1988

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