Every once in a while we meet someone who so clearly grasps the challenges of life that it takes our breath away. This poem from Catherine McGuire—both a personal and a universal portrait of the struggle women have faced in the past and still face today—brings just such a breath-stealing moment. She is a poet of great joy as well as deep perception; she was generous in allowing us to bring this one facet of her broad understanding of the human condition to you. Look for more from her here in May. —Ed.

A Difficult Woman

They always say that.
And I know the permutations:
spirited, fiery, eccentric. Rude.
She won’t be still; she won’t look down;
she lacks that full-body halo
of female subservience. Fierce.
Manly. Unsexed. Odd.

It was always so.
When I argued with philosophers—
Stoics, Sophists—holding my own
with logic and sums;
when I ruled the temples, burnt
the offerings, led the prayers;
when I hung my paintings in men’s galleries
and wrote with men’s names;
when I masked myself in trousers
and short hair, fought
at Gettysburg, Atlanta, Bull Run;
when I ran a gauntlet of mockery
at mill and medical school;
when I chose burnt bras over lingerie,
prison over servitude, when I yelled
in polite society the names of those
they wished forgotten—hy
I was a difficult woman.

Don’t get me wrong—I know I was hard
on everyone. Those who applauded me
did so from a distance. My pugnacious need
to right wrongs started with those I could touch,
who could touch me. Old soldiers know—
there is no place in the Peaceable Kingdom
for those trained at war. They want me to lay down
my arms; retire my sword. I see battles everywhere.

Catherine McGuire has had more than 225 poems published in venues such as Adagio, FutureCycle, Green Fuse, New Verse News, Nibble, Portland Lights Anthology, and Tapjoe. Her chapbook, Palimpsests, was published by Uttered Chaos in 2011. She has two self-published chapbooks. Her website is cathymcguire.com.