Stored with other detritus in the attics of the unused east wing,
sealed since renovations converted the ancient chateau
into a trendy B&B. Rumor was, if you looked long enough
you’d see her chest rise…and fall, rise…and fall
almost like she was alive, just sleeping. Trick of the light,
most everyone agreed, but still the campfire stories continued:
about a witch and a curse and how you better kiss the first boy who asks
cos true love’s too long to wait for.
Hans Christian Anderson got it wrong:
the Little Match Girl did not die
of exposure. No—
she arranged what remained of her inventory
strategic as an arsonist,
wore taps on her shoes to keep time clackclackclack jigging on cobblestones
whilst around her, flames bright as a party dress,
centre-ville dissolving into hot ash and smoke
as the match girl laughed and thumped
her feet, awkward and resplendent,
and, finally, at the last,
After the Trump video released last Friday, writer Kelly Oxford tweeted about her own experience—at only 12 years old—of having a strange man grab her crotch. While she may not have expected more than a few friends to respond to her invitation to “tweet me you first assaults,” she has now received hundreds of thousands of stories (a million on Saturday night alone), and the tweets are still pouring in, under the hashtag #NotOkay.
I find myself among those unwilling to join this conversation openly. Not because I do not have such memories in my past, but these are encounters that I either have already shared or have reasons to hold private still. So I am thinking instead about the ubiquity of not only sexual violence in girlhood but also the threats of such violence—and how these twin forces shaped the early years of so many women I know, and continue to color our daughters’ experiences today.
With all that in mind (both the said and the unsaid), I decided to revisit and revamp this piece I wrote a few years ago:
My Body Is a Car Door
He and I are drinking coffee together, sitting
each in our own maturity and marveling the kids these days! when he says:
“I always thought puberty
was so much worse for girls. Breasts, menstruation—
like living inside an alien.
Boys have nothing that compares.”
After the death of memoir, I will write fairy tales.
I desire a purity of language outside the stink of events and memories. Stories I cannot be accused of having invented because of course I have invented them.
Neither full fiction, nor freighted fact.
I would show other bones behind my telling.
Fable gifts us fanciful creatures, fanciful bodies, fanciful selves. In the tales, I shall become winged, ogrish, bulky as a mountain, a face all crooked nose and sharpened teeth—by turns witch, killer, a dragon in shadows. I rend flesh. I eat princesses whole. I am wolf and hunter both, my head too full to contain in just one mind, in just one set of teeth.
I am Little Red Riding Hood’s lover.
I pull my feet off the ground and still know where I am standing.
I grew up in a gingerbread house, led by a gingerbread man, all of us happy and perfect and filled with gumdrops to our eyelids until at last we bled gumdrops out our mouths, and still we filled with them. I was a princess who gave away her voice for love, who danced in magical shoes until her feet were stumps and slept atop 85 feathered mattresses yet still could find no rest.
All the while being told (small child in a small child’s nightgown) that monsters were never real. The very monsters I could see, could smell.
Monsters whose fur caught on railings, leaving behind tufts that I collected each morning in a pillowcase.
One grows weary of not knowing when to believe the words pouring off one’s own tongue. Over time, one starts to prick one’s finger on every spinning wheel spindle out of spite and desperation. Continue reading “Once Upon A Time”→
I went to hear the mystic speak.
He uttered desolation — and a gale began
that swept the landscape clean.
A tree with barbed-wire branches
laced its leaves together above a banquet table
built like stonehenge, set for eight hundred
with a dinner of dirt
The mystic stomped the ground twice with his gnarled staff
and stood, complete.
From the audience a storyteller rose to sing —
a drowning melody. Baobab trees grew tall
and filled with cockatoos and peacocks,
the air pungent with their color.
Vines crept across my face and toes.
More vines consumed the banquet
and the banquet table.
The storyteller’s final liquid notes fell in a shimmer,
and she stood, complete.
An old and wizened woman took the mystic’s staff
and planted it in a corner of her garden
where it bloomed into a quiet elm.
[written by alice isak in august, 1990]
* * *
A couple summers when I was in college, I worked as an intern in the PR department of a large insurance company. My assigned tasks were interesting enough (they certainly beat flipping burgers!) and also left me plenty of unstructured time to do my own thing, all while looking hard-at-work massaging the language of a brochure or low-priority press release.
My own thing generally consisted of banging out poems on a massive electric typewriter.
Astoundingly, a pack of those poems has survived. I came across them recently, in the process of looking for an old photo. “The Faithful” was always my favorite of the pieces, the one I thought about from time to time before I realized any of them were still in my possession. Even without remembering the specifics of its verses, I remembered the feeling I had writing it — a feeling I touched again, after many years without, when I wrote the first piece for this blog that seemed to capture my own voice, my true voice, and not some mere parroting to please another person.
Written just over two years ago, “The heart that I hold tightly within my chest, tightly holds me back” not only echoes the same inner writerly feeling for me, but also reflects a continuation of many of the same images and themes from this piece typewriter-clacked-out almost 25 years earlier: the fantastical landscapes; the conflicting world views of men (and their few female “helpmates”) and women, expressed through the incompatibility of their languages; storytelling as song, as abundance or perhaps overabundance, as a form of speaking incomprehensible to all but the select.
One key difference: the later piece does not share the earlier poem’s hopeful belief in a peaceful resolution to this conflict. If I were to write “The Faithful” today, I suspect my grizzled crone would plant the mystic’s staff right through his foot, later to be watered with his tears and his teeth. Continue reading “Deconstruction of the Poet as a Young Stenographer”→
Now — which pictured baby would you name “most likely to have a joke about it getting sexually humiliated and assaulted appear as the key element in a new comedy already heralded as potentially ‘the next Seinfeld‘ and executive-produced by a woman lauded for her outspoken feminism“?
[Jeopardy theme music plays briefly.]
If you guessed the Black girlchild in the lavender playsuit, congrats! we have a winner!
“Difficult People” is a comedy that premiered on Hulu just a few weeks ago. Executive-produced by Amy Poehler — yes, that Amy Poehler — the series stars Julie Klausner (who is also the show’s creator, producer, and writer) and Billy Eincher as NY comedians named “Julie” and “Billy” who both have a penchant for tasteless humor. That “the more taboo the target, the better!”-style of joking.
Get it??! The main characters are just teeeeerrrrrible. (The show is called “Difficult People,” after all.)
Even with only half-paying attention to the first episode, I still noted drive-by snark directed towards: hipsters, fat people, disabled people, gay people, old people, cancer patients, parents of young children, Jews — and all the stick-in-the-mud characters who don’t see humor in such outrageous statements.
Oh. And then there’s this:
At four minutes into the pilot, we get the full hook for a joke about how teeeeerrrrrible Twitter users are, which provides the running gag for the rest of the episode: people tweeting outrageously mean things to Julie in response to an outrageously tasteless joke she herself had tweeted earlier.