Adrienne Rich





Heroines

Exceptional
                 even deviant
                                         you draw your long skirts
across the nineteenth century
                                               Your mind
burns long after death
                                          not like the harbor beacon
but like a pyre of driftwood 
                                        on the beach 
                                                           You are spared
illiteracy
                               death by pneumonia
                                                             teeth which leave the gums
the seamstress' clouded eyes
                                             the mill-girls' shortening breath
by a collection 
                       of circumstances
                                                  soon to be known as
class privilege
                     The law says you can possess nothing
                                                                                  in a world
where property is everything
                                            You belong first to your father
then to him who 
                          chooses you
                                            if you fail to marry
you are without recourse
                                       unable to earn
                                                             a workingman's salary
forbidden to vote
                             forbidden to speak
                                                          in public
if married you are legally dead
                                               the law says
you may not bequeath property
                                               save to your children
or male kin
                  that your husband
                                               has the right
of the slaveholder
                             to hunt down and re-possess you
                                                                                  should you escape
You may inherit slaves
                                  but have no power to free them
your skin is fair
                       you have been taught that light
came
        to the Dark Continent
                                         with white power
that the Indians
                         live in filth
                                        and occult animal rites
Your mother wore corsets
                                        to choke her spirit
                                                                     which if you refuse
you are jeered for refusing
                                        you have heard many sermons
and have carried 
                           your own interpretations
                                                                 locked in your heart

You are a woman
                          strong in health
                                                  through a collection
of circumstances
                          soon to be known 
                                                     as class privilege
which if you break
                            the social compact
                                                        you lose outright
When you open your mouth in public
                                                        human excrement 
                                                                                    is flung at you
you are exceptional
                               in personal circumstance
                                                                      in indignation
you give up believing 
                                in protection
                                                   in Scripture
in man-made laws
                              respectable as you look
                                                                 you are an outlaw
Your mind burns
                                         not like the harbor beacon
                                                                                 but like a fire
of fiercer origin
                       you begin speaking out
and a great gust of freedom
                                           rushes in with your words
yet still you speak
                             in the shattered language
                                                                     of a partial vision
You draw your long skirts
                                       deviant
                                                   across the nineteenth century
registering injustice
                               failing to make it whole
How can I fail to love
                              your clarity and fury
how can I give you
                             all your due
                                               take courage from your courage
honor your exact
                          legacy as it is
recognizing
                 as well
                            that it is not enough?


spoken = Karen Marek