Always get a second opinion . . .

All these female helpers: not only fetch and dis but muse, angel on the shoulder, the better half. Williams’ “beautiful thing.” I don’t believe a word of it, much as I might want to. Because the whole time the real women have been stitching together their own versions of events. These days, scores and scores of women poets are saying things that are truer (or at least more interesting) than the old and shopworn Truths of the Great Thinkers. What might they have to say about the Well of Urd? Here’s Lucille Clifton, who composed poems in her head for fifteen years before she ever sought publication:

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
from my own hands. i did not.
the past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning language everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.

(quilting: poems 1987-1990, BOA EditionsLtd., 1991)

And here is the white working-class poet Mary Fell, in her very first book:


We lived on Winter Street. Bricks escaped from factory walls, distraught. Ours was a building with too many corners. Families got lost and were never heard from again, small names gathering dust or pinned to the wallpaper like religious medals, their blue ribbons fading.

Every step shook plaster from the ceilings. We carried it into the street on our shoulders. Whole rooms blew away by morning. Old aunts went on shopping trips and never returned. Dishes vanished as we ate breakfast. My own mother disappeared into her bedclothes one day, thinking she was better off.

All my life it’s been like this. I tell you, there’s no sense believing what you see. I learned early to practice not being fooled.

(The Persistence of Memory, Random House, 1975)

And the gifted storyteller Naomi Shihab Nye, in “Telling the Story,” reports:

I answered a telephone
on a California street.
Hello? It was possible.
A voice said, “There is no scientific proof
that God is a man.”
“Thank you.” I was standing there.
Was this meant for me?
It was not exactly the question
I had been asking, but it kept me busy awhile,
telling the story.

Some start out
with a big story
that shrinks.

Some stories accumulate power
like a sky gathering clouds,
quietly, quietly,
till the story rains around you.

Some get tired of the same story
and quit speaking;
a farmer leaning into
his row of potatoes,
a mother walking the same child
to school.
What will we learn today?
There should be an answer,
and it should

(Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, Eighth Mountain Press, 1995)

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