A Much Older Woman in Camp

by Jane M. Engleman

I am a woman, and so my drawings
will be forgotten, brushed over in
the mirror before the rush to the train.

We came through the black forest,
the nodding pines before they were cut
for masts of navies and flags of fascists,
through the beautiful needles, crooked
lines of lily and ivy in fairytale books.
They’d long been taking our children away,
providing hefty usury to scrub their little
minds for the drive to the New Plantation…

We came back down, we came back down
from photosynthesis to the brick,
the woman’s hospital with its measured steps,
its rectangular windows, its ruled basement
where they gassed us,
they gassed us, til we couldn’t talk about
Roosevelt or Eliot or Woodman or Truth
or Job or Stanton or Sanger. It’s
the Wild Wild West; no place for wimmen;
guns riddled with laws in every clause.
We’d just settle in to what that
means when, later, you’ve copied
with your own “Mind Kampf.”

Nearly half our ladies could not strain
to decide which way to go. “Don’t worry
your little head about it, baby;
we’ll do the decision making
so you can do our most important work.”
In sweet grim grasses, convection
ovens, scattered underwear and scarves,
buckles and candlesticks and scars,
mothers and sisters and old maids,
mightier pens and faces drawn–
scaredy boys hanging on to skirts or
drooping stockings, looking up to
our furrows of uncropped eyes–
we’d exchanged our muck and moss
for blocks.

We were led to undressing rooms
where we were hung without bodies
on hooks and herded, pregnant,
into showers of elements precisely studied.

They took the world, our world,
their globe, for granted, chop-shopping
white marble monuments that broker no
silly googoos you’d only have to educate
and notice–or stand their frilly
moms or rights or rules–a city of men
and only ME, no tenement
for the less than polished, no single
occupant residency, no public pavilions
for picnics or pondering aloud.

It’s a still life, sir, it’s just a sketch; it’s my
country gasping. I begin to wonder–
down to the camps with long aisles
engraved with bloody knees, dorms set
like pews at Camp Witness, clouds of stench
against clouds of rainbows–will refugee
women finally ghost out toward the trees
in heirloom veils, or will we start over
in piles of gray, or will the photographs
of paintings fray and buzz across the projectors?

This rough little squiggle shows somebody’s
chosen safety pins to mark this year’s thriftstore
throwouts; last year, somebody chose the stars.
What else will they choose? Who else will be
the chosen?

 

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