Tuesday Sep 19

DanielSkate Kate Daniels is the author of four volumes of poetry, including, most recently, A Walk in Victoria’s Secret.  Her poem in this issue is the title poem of a just completed collection.  Daniels was a 2013/14 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry and was recently inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  She teaches at Vanderbilt University where she directs the program in creative writing.
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Her Barbaric Yawp

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
W. Whitman



Past time to praise that beautiful freak,                                                         
the aging Female Body. It was easy to praise her
back in the day, watching her celebrate and sing
herself on TV, in movies, on billboards and glossy
print ads, in the narcissistic privacies
of our ceiling-mirrored beds and baths
where we met her in our own fresh images. Young,
clad all over in tight, unwrinkled skin, not yet
stretched-out or sagging, she was a pleasure
to ogle… So we gawked and gaped
as she flung her diaphragm, unwashed,
in the corner of a bedroom at party’s end,
then mated, again, in the dirt, peeling the used
condom from the sole of her boot,
and walked out to breakfast, bra-less in a thin
tee shirt and someone’s jockey shorts tightened up
at the waist with a safety pin.

                                                  What a beauty
she was back then, what a marvel – butchered
haircuts grew out quickly, and the godawful blood-
streaked whites of eyes and puffy cheeks
of all night benders, gave way uncomplainingly
to a good night’s sleep and extra hydration.
Just that, and the young beast was ready to roar again…

Well, that’s all decades in the past. Now,
there’s this flowing away, this gigantic
ongoing flush she finds herself fighting.
The juice that made it all go, the oil,
the universal lubricant that used
to grease the gears of all
that made her her is runneling down
the body’s hidden culverts.
And eating more salads, giving up
hard cheese, or taking on red wine,
even adding extra sessions of Pilates
won’t do a goddamn thing to change it.

Who would blame her for being angry
and non-compliant? For missing
the not-quite-greasy wetness of excitation
that doesn’t get around all that much anymore…
Trying to re-arouse it, she thinks of the pugnacious
bitchiness of Etta James singing the old jazz song,
affirming how awfully different life is without
the old companions of her youth – the low growling
deep in the gut when potential mates sauntered
into view, and the way that nothing more than that
image unleashed the hydraulic blood rush
that scurried to the center of the marshy pelt
where she used to keep her privacy.

                        *

                      Everywhere she lugs it,
these days, the old beast feels strange
and unwelcome, uninfused by fresh blood
as inert and useless as a stretched-out elastic strip
undone from the waistline by too many washings…

Those cloying fresh fish and damp mold
smells she used to try to soak and scrape
off herself are history now.   What she wouldn’t give
to have them back… And that patch
of skin on the side of her neck where her first date
placed his fingers midway through the movie
whispering in wonder your skin’s so soft ?
that’s the slackened flap she gathers up
and pulls back, in front of the bathroom
mirror, rehearsing a lift.

                        *

The word BITCH leaps out at her now
from many contexts. And every single
time she hears or reads it, she gets
a little shock. Her old dog back home
on the living room sofa, spayed and tranquilized
by domesticity, trying to keep warm in the winter sun –
dear god, don’t even go there

                        *

All the new thinking’s about loss,
so opined a famous male poet in 1981.
How that comes back to her now, motoring
through the brand new millennium,
soundtracked by the male gender’s
endless yawping about what they’ve lost:
submissive spouses and obedient kids;
the ability to control the flow of urine,
to achieve and sustain a workable
erection; the freedom to compete for jobs
unhindered by dark-skinned applicants uplifted
a bit by affirmative action…

She, too, is thinking about loss. Nothing new
there, however: loss of weight, loss of looks
and virginity. Loss of reputation/job opportunity/
promotion/raise. Loss of one or both breasts,
then the entire reproductive system removed
in a prophylactic surgery that may not succeed.
Loss of hair following chemotherapy. Then
loss of libido, and loss of longterm partner,
repulsed by the scar site’s topography.

                        *

All those packs of older women
at the movies together, in restaurants,
padding about in their reeboks
and fanny packs on single sex           
organized tours of the offbeat capitals
of eastern Europe. She hates the tacky
attraction of their freedom even as
she craves it. No more make up
or sucking in her gut. No more worrying
about what her husband used to caution her
about: “the old male ego” when she aced him
consistently on the tennis court.

                        *

Ok: she admits she wants the juice back,
but does that make her a failed
feminist? To crave the juice again,
but without the bother? How bad
was the bother anyway?

Now that it’s over, marriage keeps
drifting back in concise forms and piercing
images she can’t dismiss: hefty handfuls                   
of warm man-parts under the covers
of their bed, and that cheesy smell
in his trousers that never laundered out.
Him hauling garbage out in rain and snow,
handling the metal cans with bare hands
in slick sleet. The dip stick whose greasy
level he always understood. And beneath the lamp
in the dining room, reading glasses tilted
on his nose, paying bills the first of each month.
He was the necessary mind of math, and she was something
less precise, but richer and more complex. The full range,
perhaps, of the arts and humanities…

                        *

At the pool, years ago…

A flash of pure hatred had inflated her
when the flat-bellied one in the two piece
swimsuit murmured to her friend, I’m glad I’m
past that, nudging her head at her swollen stomach.

And she had glared, and positioned the tremendous                          
ass of the eighth month of her second pregnancy
to block the view, and waddled off slowly, plowing
war-like through the world with her magical body.

                        *

Once, she had contained
multitudes of milk and meat
that her body turned to bones and blood,
and living orbs she carted about
heavily until she couldn’t anymore
and they slid out, all covered in slime
and already mewling, thrilling her with ancient
emotions that filtered through as if brand new.

Now the orbs reside in southern California,
struggling with bad air and property tax.
Ungrammatically, they whine in texts and emails
until she tunes them out, and falls back
from the glowing screens, to gorge
on inward images of their infancies
when she sucked and licked them
at her leisure, and undressed them solely
to admire her corporeal handiwork, then
clamped them to her tits to shut them up,
and pumped out milky sustenance…

                        *

The fucking head won’t fit!
: her profane utterance
at the moment of crowning
as her son’s head descended
her vagina, and strove
to spill from the hole ripped
open between her legs…

*

The café was crowded,
and the young couple
had nowhere to sit.
Strategizing, they hovered
hands full of food.

Right above our heads, the male
muttered, Wish one of these
hags would pick up her broom
and fly away. And the female
tittered…

It’s because we’re old,
Mona had said compassionately,
gesturing at her own face
as if to soften the blow to mine.
They don’t even see us anymore

                        *

Trapped in the climacteric, bad physics
reigns. Suddenly, seasons are flowing in reverse
—spring is returning to winter—and she’s
unraveling backwards across time
to ankle socks and unshaved legs,
to un-bloodstained panties, and the box
of napkins not yet needed, secretly stored
on the closet floor. Stepping tentatively again
into the museum gallery of her own young body –
how reverently she stood before the mystery
back then, meditating on the double shrine
of eggs-in-waiting, the swaying clusters that swung
like grapes about to be cut from the vine.

                        *

She’s always appreciated the double X,
and never was aware of wanting anything other
than her own moist nest of fur and smell.
Certainly not an obtruding, mauled-up club
of alternating hard/soft flesh dangling between
her legs, or the social privileges it’s alleged to confer.

                       Her analyst (of course)
thought otherwise. It escapes her now
why she spent those three long years, hoarding
her secret on his scratchy couch: how much she loved
her fleshy crevices, and the personal thrill
the very first time her finger slipped inside
and how claimed she was then, how permanently
imprinted by the moist and clinging secrets
of her female subjectivity…                       

                        *

Her old relationship with the toilet bowl
has finally ended. No more kaleidoscopic clots
of unconceived children sliding out
month after month. No more
fleshy smells of fresh come wafting up
from dropped panties. No more
thighs greasily sliding on the toilet seat
eased by spermicide mixed with semen.

Time to accept she’ll never drop
those clots of blood again deep
into the toilet bowl, and stare down
mesmerized by the images of fleeing
half-lives that might have come
to resemble her own…

Just piss now, ordinary
as rain. Humble and unpretentious
as sweat. No, wait. Sometimes
there’s still a little vinegary thrill
at the end, a last, rage-filled spurt
that splits open the storage compartments
of the aging beast – old memories
still stored there in the all-but-
used-up, but still commodious
female body...