Ekphrastic Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

For Paul Brookes’ Special Ekphrastic Challenge, Day Twenty-Three, a response to all three works below.

Fates and Fables

Legs, curves, the apple-breasts that tempt—
lascivious wretch, beneath contempt,

she wants to seduce, she’s wanton and witch,
and she makes you itch and twitch–

of course, she’s weak, it’s never you,
but somehow, she is powerful, too—

there’s no logic, and it’s not fair
she can curse bodies, make rank the air

she must be bound and constrained,
kept guarded, restrained,

from knowledge–her poor mind
is feeble, and you’re only being kind,

because she’s the root of all evil,
cursed for eternity, the cause of upheavals.

You hate yourself–you can’t stay chaste,
it’s her fault you taste

her lips and smell her scent. You cry to the crowd
they seethe and shout,

You raise your symbols–cross, star, flag, book, fruit—
and they scatter, rampage, burn, hang, bomb, shoot.

The mob does not think at all,
they simply heed your strident call

in ferocious fury, they are the judges,
there is no jury

of her peers–
for far too many years. . .

Perhaps a day comes, of peaceful blue
calm colors and serene hues,

perhaps it comes, or perhaps it’s a fable,
perhaps we find the way, perhaps someday, we’re able.

Past, Present, and Future Meet at a Conference

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is not present or future—only the past, happening over and over again—now.”

–Eugene O’Neill, A Moon for the Misbegotten

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I attended an academic conference–

for the first time in many years.

It was a conference about the past,

well, it was a history conference, after all,

the history of the early American republic,

and I was there to comment at a session.

I was prepared to talk about the past

well, perhaps the present and the past,

(The past happening over and over again, now.)

but I also found my own past there,

past and present crashing into each other

strolling out from amongst the scholarly papers

to say hello,

Do you remember me?

“Do we do the awkward hugs,” I say to her,

my friend from graduate school days.

 

We haven’t seen each other for–

What is two decades? Three?–

So we sat and talked

over New Haven thin-crust pizza and wine,

and the years melted away.

We were two old friends,

well not that old,

but without the self-consciousness of youth.

We didn’t have to impress anyone at this conference,

we weren’t looking for jobs or tenure,

people either knew our names,

or didn’t.

We talked of our children and spouses,

we talked of those we had both known who have died

we talked of work and play

of current events and cats.

It was so good to talk to her again

I hope we keep in touch.

I think we will.

 

The sessions I attended were stimulating,

so much so,

as to make me inarticulate when I got up to present,

my thoughts flowing and churning in my brain so fast,

faster than I could get them out in spoken words

(Sorry about that)

But still,

perhaps I made a fool of myself

but there are worse things,

at least I didn’t spill food on my dress

or vomit at the podium

and people were kind.

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The past, present, and future all running together,

rape, rape culture, the subjugation of women

a crime of the past

a crime of the present

and what of the future?

Rape cultures exist all around us.

The term can describe the situation of enslaved people

in the nineteenth-century

(“Let’s just call that baby ugly,” said someone in the audience.)

it can be seen in the misogyny of the recent RNC convention,

in the power of celebrities and politicians and on college campuses.

My husband and I hear a NPR report on the car radio

on women in Brazil

where women are raped, battered, and murdered,

a “woman killed every two hours” there

and “assaulted every 15 seconds.”*

Taught and expected to be submissive

the property of men

like the women of the session I commented on,

the enslaved women of the south,

the women depicted in nineteenth-century pornography

the women in the literature and pamphlets of the time

submissive, docile,

those who speak out, those who don’t marry

those who are “ruined” by rape or seduction,

forced to become prostitutes, slaves, or they die

a cautionary tale

to marry, to obey,

the past, happening over and over again, now.

 

But I make a new acquaintance

to share ideas and experiences with over lunch,

such fun

to come out of a session on such horrors.

As she eats her salad, and I drink my smoothie,

I gaze at the poster

saying refugees are welcome.

We have a history of welcoming and denigrating refugees,

the past happening over and over again, now.

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Then on to another session

honoring a historian who was beloved

by friends, students, and colleagues

but who tragically died too soon,

a moving session to attend,

although I had only met her once or twice

I wished I had known her.

Her legacy lives on in her writing

and in the students she inspired.

They are the future.**

Perhaps they are rare, these inspiring teachers,

yet, we read about them throughout history,

the past happening over and over again, now.

 

My husband and I have dinner,

Ethiopian food in a restaurant across from the hotel.

There is only one server,

a cheerful woman who managed to be friendly and helpful

though she had to serve, seat, and clean all the tables by herself.

Brain and stomach full

we settle down for the night

I think of the past, how it happens again and again, now,

the future.

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Vegetarian Sampler at Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, New Haven, CT

 

*”For Brazil’s Women, Laws are Not Enough to Deter Rampant Violence,”

–Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition Sunday

**C. Dallett Hemphill Publication Fund