You’ve not come to a meeting in three years—
Within the movement, there are buzzing fears
That marriage has ensnared you in its cage.
And frankly, I myself have reached the stage
Where anger has replaced the old respect.
Now don’t get sulky—what did you expect?
A happy private life was not our goal.
You and I were meant to play a role
In the great drama of our liberation.
We were to rise above the female station,
Not wallow in it, like contented sows,
Or chew the cud of servitude, mere cows
Supinely ready for the bovine pizzle.
The fire of commitment—did it fizzle
Out in your breast all swollen up with milk?
Or is the marriage garment and its silk
Stuck to your skin forever? How appalling
That someone of your character and calling
Should be immured at home with childish chatter.
Come now, Lizzie—tell me what’s the matter!
Six children? Truly, that is a disgrace.
There is no shortage of the human race.
While I made speeches and attended rallies
You washed diapers and made up your tallies
Of eggs and cream and butter. I’m offended.
The only reason friendship hasn’t ended
Between us is the fact that in the past
You were my guiding beacon. Now, I’m last
In your consideration. Your first thought
Is of your family, not of what we sought
To gain for women: suffrage and full rights.
Your days are taken up—and as for nights,
You spend them in submission to his lust,
Fondled like a hussy, probed and bussed
Until once more your belly swells with child.
No, don’t touch me! I’m not reconciled
With strokes and petting—no, not after treason.
That is your crime. You left the paths of reason.
You love this man, his children, and his flaws
More than you love your sisters and the cause.

 

Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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10 Responses

  1. Carol Smallwood

    Loved it! Beautifully done on usually a topic so important but really not that well known. The humor was most appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Profile photo of Amy Foreman
    Amy Foreman

    This is delightful and insightful. “A happy private life was not our goal.” I’ve rarely heard it said with such perspicacity. Excellent poem, Joseph.

    Reply
  3. Dona Fox

    Vivid. The pain on both sides still echoes after reading though woven cleverly with humor. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Profile photo of Lorna Davis
    Lorna Davis

    While I applaud the poetic skill here, I don’t understand this portrayal of Stanton as a wife “immured at home in childish chatter”, or in submission to her husband’s lusts. After all, this was a woman who, in 1840, had the promise to obey omitted from her marriage vows. Eight years into her marriage, she wrote and delivered the Declaration of Sentiments at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. She did spend more time at home than Anthony, but during those times often wrote the speeches that Anthony delivered. In 1868, she and Anthony embarked on a 12-year speaking circuit for 8 months of every year, and in 1895 she was the primary author of The Woman’s Bible, which altered biblical passages that she felt were demeaning to women. As I recall, the disagreement between Anthony and Stanton was due to Anthony’s belief that the vote alone was the key to resolving all other issues of equality, while Stanton believed that it was necessary to push for women’s rights more broadly, including divorce rights, employment rights, property rights, the right to serve on a jury, and the right of a married woman to refuse sex. But I could be missing information. Perhaps this is a good night to watch Ken Burns’ documentary about the two again. Their tenacity in the face of so many years of failure is certainly inspiring.

    I am puzzled about one other thing, though: I noticed that this poem is tagged “Culture, Deconstructing Communism”. Does this mean that the Society actually considers women’s equality to be a facet of Communism?

    Reply
  5. Juanita Hamilton

    I could be wrong, but I think this is under “Deconstructing Communism” because communism is extreme and advocates absolute equality, between classes and genders. Communism wants to undermine tradition, including the traditional family structure. The poem seems to point out in subtle and satirical way that taking feminism too far means destroying the traditional family and bringing unnecessary levels of struggle and conflict into people’s personal lives. All things in balance.

    It is difficult to make the distinction between being too extreme in equality and simply upright and fair when looking at American history. However, if we take a look at China, it becomes much more clear. Chairman Mao, essentially a mass murder worse than Hitler, advocated gender equality saying that women were subjected to “feudal patriarchy” (http://sfr-21.org/mao-women.html) and in actual practice, while communism should have been good for women in China, it was terrible because people were abandoning their basic sense of propriety, gentlemenliness, and basic morals (http://classroom.synonym.com/women-were-affected-cultural-revolution-china-5375.html)

    In this way, it becomes clear that feminism and equality, like anything really, taken to an extreme has negative consequences. Here, I guess communism means extreme equality to the point of being destructive to ordinary people and traditional wholesome values.

    Reply
      • James Sale

        Yes, thanks Juanita, you have expressed your point extremely well. I would also add, with due respect to Lorna Davis, that her approach is entirely the wrong way to read a poem. On the basis of it, we might ask Edmund Spenser to re-write the Faerie Queen because his depiction of Queen Elizabeth 1 does not match what we historically know about her; or we might ask W B Yeats to reconsider the language he used in Easter 1916 as the Irish Nationalists don’t approve of his idiosyncratic interpretation of the Post Office uprising against the British. The literalism of Lorna Davis’ approach impoverishes poetry, since poetry is in its essential essence, imaginative. Historical facts may or may not be relevant to the imagination; think of Robert Browning’s fabulous ‘historical’ monologues. The true judgement of the poem is based on its imaginative power to move us; this Joseph Salemi does superbly well and in very specific ways. It is the prerogative of the editor of these pages to not publish content that he deems inappropriate – as it is any editor’s of any magazine, and each will have their own criteria – but it would be shame if, as poets. we started reading poems for their politically correct content, and as if we were ‘thought-police officers of the imagination’. Let’s keep in mind too: how easy it is to like poems that share our value system, so easy because our prejudices are confirmed. But poetry points us elsewhere.

  6. Lorna Davis

    My apologies, Mr.Salemi. Ironically, I was arguing the other side of this very issue – approaching a poem on the basis of its content, rather than form – just a few months ago when another poet here was being criticized because her poem strayed from the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve, and I was her lone defender. I should have recognized the similarity, but this particular subject is near and dear to me. It wasn’t that long ago that it was still legal for a man to beat his wife. I’m old enough to have lived the subject; equal protection under the law for women is as important to me, I suppose, as human rights in China are to this site’s editor, which is why I was puzzled that it should be a cause worthy of “deconstructing”. That doesn’t affect the quality of your poem, though, which is witty and well-made. Again, my apologies.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Apologies too for my not supporting you on the Adam and Eve narrative; I missed that one. It is a complex issue and whilst I believe the general position that the poem needs to be judged as poetry – that is, form – sometimes content does have a bearing. I am shortly to produce a review of an epic poem for SoCP and from what I have read to date the content does have a bearing on whether the poem itself can be considered ‘epic’ whatever its technical virtues may be as verse. And as you rightly point out, when core values are involved for us, it is difficult to see merit in anything that seems to deny them, no matter how accomplished. I admire your candour.

      Reply

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