The Women Who Hate Me
The women who do not know me.
The women who, not knowing me, hate me
mark my life, rise in my dreams and shake their loose hair
throw out their thin wrists, narrow their already sharp eyes
say Who do you think you are?
Lazy, useless, cuntsucking, scared, stupid
What you scared of anyway?
Their eyes, their hands, their voices.
Terrifying.The women who hate me cut me
as men can’t. Men don’t count.
I can handle men. Never expected better
of any man anyway.
But the women,
shallow-cheeked young girls the world was made for
safe little girls who think nothing of bravado
who never got over by playing it tough.
What do they know of my fear
What do they know of the women in my body?
My weakening hips, sharp good teeth,
angry nightmares, scarred cheeks,
fat thighs, fat everything.
Don’t smile too wide. You look like a fool.
Don’t want too much. You ain’t gonna get it.
Ain’t gonna get it.
Say goddamn and kick somebody’s ass
that I am not even half what I should be
full of terrified angry bravado.
The women who hate me
life-saving, precious bravado.
God on their right shoulder
righteousness on their left,
the women who hate me never use words
like hate speak instead of nature
of the spirit not housed in the flesh
as if my body, a temple of sin,
didn’t mirror their own.
Their measured careful words echo
earlier coarser stuff say
What do you think you’re doing?
Who do you think you are? Whitetrash
no good to anybody, never did diddlyshit anyway
You figured out yet who you ain’t gonna be?
The women who hate me hate
their insistent desires, their fat lusts
swallowed and hidden, disciplined to nothing
narrowed to bone and dry hot dreams.
The women who hate me deny
hunger and appetite,
the cream delight
of a scream
that arches the thighs and fills
the mouth with singing.
Something hides here
a secret thing shameful and complicated.
Something hides in a tight mouth
a life too easily rendered
a childhood of inappropriate longing
a girl’s desire to grow into a man
a boyish desire to stretch and sweat.
Every three years I discover again
that no, I knew nothing before.
Everything must be dragged out,
looked over again.
The unexamined life is the lie, but still
must I every time deny
everything I knew before?
My older sister tells me flatly
she don’t care who I take to my bed
what I do there
Tells me finally
she sees no difference between
her husbands, my lovers. Behind it all
we are too much the same to deny.
My little sister thinks my older crazy
thinks me sick
more shameful to be queer than crazy
as if her years hustling ass,
her pitiful junky whiteboy
saved through methadone and marriage, all that
asslicking interspersed with asskicking,
all those pragmatic family skills we share mean nothing
measured against the little difference
of who and what I am.
My little sister too
is one of the women who hate me.
I measure it differently, what’s shared,
what’s denied, what no one wants recognized.
My first lover’s skill at mystery,
how one day she was there, the next gone;
the woman with whom I lived for eight years
but slept with less than one;
the lover who tied me to the foot of her bed
when I didn’t really want that
but didn’t really know
what else I could get.
What else can I get?
Must I rewrite my life
edit it down to a parable where everything
turns out for the best?
But then what would I do with the lovers
too powerful to disappear the women
too hard to melt to soft stuff?
Now that I know that soft stuff
was never where I wanted to put my hand.
The women who hate me
hate too my older sister
with her many children, her weakness for
good whiskey, country music, bad men.
She says the thing women’s lib has given her
is a sense that she doesn’t have to stay too long
though she does
still she does
much too long.
I am not so sure anymore of the difference.
I do not believe anymore in the natural superiority
of the lesbian, the difference between my sisters and me.
fact is, for all I tell my sisters
I turned out terrific at it myself:
sucking cunt, stroking ego, provoking,
manipulating, comforting, keeping.
Plotting my life around mothering
other women’s desperation
the way my sisters
build their lives
around their men.
Till I found myself sitting at the kitchen table
shattered glass, blood in my lap and her
the good one with her stern insistence
just standing there wanting me
to explain it to her save her from being
alone with herself.
Or that other one
another baby-butch wounded girl
How can any of us forget how wounded
any of us have to be to get that hard?
Never to forget that working class says nothing
does not say who she was how she was
fucking me helpless. Her hand on my arm
raising lust to my throat that lust
everyone says does not happen
though it goes on happening
all the time.
How can I speak of her, us, together?
Her touch drawing heat from my crotch to my face
her face, terrifying, wonderful
Me saying, “Yeah, goddamn it, yeah,
put it to me, ease me, fuck me, anything…”
till the one thing I refused
then back up against a wall
her rage ugly in the muscles of her neck
her fist swinging up to make a wind
a wind blowing back to my mama’s cheek
past my stepmother’s arm.
I ask myself over and over how I
came to be standing in such a wind?
How I came to be held up like my mama
with my jeans, my shoes locked in a drawer
and the woman I loved breathing on me,
“You bitch. You damned fool.”
“You want to try it?”
“You want to walk to Brooklyn
“You want to try it
Which meant of course I had to decide
how naked I was willing to go where
Do I forget all that?
Deny all that?
Pretend I am not
my mama’s daughter
my sister’s mirror?
Pretend I have not
at least as much lust
in my life as pain?
Where then will I find the country
where women never wrong women
where we will sit knee to knee
to the whole
of our lives?
— Dorothy Allison,
The Women Who Hate ME. Poetry 1980-1990, Ithaca, NY, Firebrand, 1991