Sometimes I don't understand poetry or prose when I first read it. I think, "Oh, that's nice," move on and forget as soon as the page is turned, and the book sits on my shelf for years until I pull it out again and it suddenly speaks to me. Right now it's Dorothy Allison's turn. I've loved her prose for years, her essays and short stories (Trash has to be one of my favorite books ever) and the one novel I've read so far, but when I bought her book of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, in a used book store in Santa Cruz about four years ago it was like a missed connection. Her brutal honesty and acknowledgement of the dirty hard parts of herself were there, but I didn't quite get them. And now? I do. And she's amazing, of course. I'm so glad I'm finally in the headspace where that is clear to me.
from we all nourish truth with our tongues
In the dirt country where I was born
the words that named me were so terrible
no one would speak them
so always just over my head
a silent language damned me.
I learned then that what no one would say
was the thing about which nothing could be done.
If they would not say Lesbian
I could not say pride.
If they would not say Queer
I could not say courage.
If they would not name me
Bastard, worthless, stupid, whore
I could not grab onto my own spoken language,
my love for my kind, myself.
I learned there is only one language
and it either speaks truly or lies.
But sometimes it must go on a long time
before the whole truth comes out
and until that moment all the words
are lies. Still I tell you
there is only one language.
What I am saying is the words
are growing in my mouth.
All the names of god will be spoken,
all the hidden secret things made known.
We will root in dirt our mothers watered
sing songs, tell stories echoed in their mouths.
Then with no walls around us, you and I
will speak of truth to each other,
the soil that grows the vegetable
as deeply as the flower that never
touches the soil.