Women have no wilderness in them,
They are provident instead,
Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts
To eat dusty bread.
They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass,
They do not hear
Snow water going down under culverts
Shallow and clear.
They wait, when they should turn to journeys,
They stiffen, when they should bend.
They use against themselves that benevolence
To which no man is friend.
They cannot think of so many crops to a field
Or of clean wood cleft by an axe.
Their love is an eager meaninglessness
Too tense or too lax.
They hear in any whisper that speaks to them
A shout and a cry.
As like as not, when they take life over their door-sill
They should let it go by.
1923. Louise Bogan. from Body of This Death.
Before I found this poem, I hadn’t heard of Louise Bogan. Since then, I have read a little bit about her life and her writing. She was at times critical of her own gender, in this poem and in others, and writes her disapproval of the ways women immobilize or tie themselves down through their choices. She wrote in a different time, but I wonder if she would write this poem all that differently today? Maybe, since women have so many more choices than they did in 1923. But she also would not find herself without a target for her words, or an audience.
I want to read more of her work, because I feel that lying just under her criticism, there is also understanding.
Lately, I feel like her reproach lands dead center, if I am the target. I will turn 40 later this year, and I am more conscious than ever of time unspooling faster and faster. There are things I want to do, and I feel that I don’t seem to move closer to finishing any of them. I want to go back to school for a degree in historic preservation (I was accepted to a couple of schools last fall, but we ended up not moving from here, so no school). My book is unfinished (and I am very much not in love with it right now). My house is still full of boxes (though a final decision has to happen soon about where we will unpack those boxes). If I were a child, I might stomp my foot right now. I might anyway, at least metaphorically.
It sounds like I’m making a lot of excuses, and maybe I am. Maybe I’m proving Bogan’s point. The thing I most dislike about myself is how I let fear or a sense of impossibility get in the way of almost every damn thing. Shouldn’t I have learned better than that by now?
This line drove deep into my gut when I read it again last night: “They wait, when they should turn to journeys”.
I’m tired of waiting. I realize that all of this, even the waiting, was an uncontrollable part of my life this past year. But right now I just feel like I’m pulled off on the side of the road with two flat tires.
Soon. I will have more answers soon, in less than a month (that’s when the kids are out of school).
Right now, it’s late and I’m tired, so I hope that this all makes some sense when I go back to read it in the morning, after coffee.
Oh, one more thing, for the record…
I do have wilderness in me, dammit.
Clicking on the photo below will take you to the rest of my photos from the Grand Canyon (and also from the Little Colorado Gorge, which we discovered on our way home, when we returned by a different route).