This week we welcome for the first time to Women’s Voices poet (and much more) Kathy Engel. In “Amends to Parts of the Body,” Engel reminds us that while we are often so generous to the women-soldiers in our lives, encouraging them to be kind and gentle to themselves and to their bodies, we often neglect to offer that same comfort and kindness to our own bodies.

We asked Engel about her idea to pen a poem about making amends to the body:

“I was thinking about beginning with amends to oneself. Then I thought of all the ways women don’t honor our own bodies, and that I need to begin by making amends to my body, which has served me well. . .”

So, on this Sunday, we share with you Engel’s moving meditation on kindness, beginning with ourselves.


Amends to Parts of the Body

I’m sorry dear thighs for giving you a hard time,
I know you’ve just been doing your job, not
dwelling on size. Why would I drag you down
when you carry me on, two steady trucks?

Stomach, oh soft heart in the middle
of the torso, how I have wronged you –
dark grounds of java at all hours, worry
turning and twisting where breath should thrive.

Wrists, thick boats on masts, you flex, you hold,
anchor these hands like spools. Have I ignored
the jut of you, the carve of you, lynchpin of
work, station for arm, with inadequate garnish?

Puffs around the mouth, I’ve done you wrong,
survived through generations of smile, you’ve
pressed through sadness, out of quivering lines —
please forgive my vanity, wishing you gone.

Tongue, I tried to hide you, thought you
hideous, not getting those tiny follicles
are armor, tentacles sensing danger, your
fuzz. Now I lion you into the world.

Lungs, I’ve learned you house grief;
I apologize for what I did and didn’t
cause, a heavy load these last years –
now I offer the tenderness of air.

Dear brow, plucked and waxed and
scrunched, when all you ever wanted
was a curve, a broadcast, an open view.
I promise the grace of the crease today.

Arms, my wings, my friends, my journey
women, I think we understand each other —
carrying water buckets, leaflets, and
daughters, my cradle, my ambassadors.

Ok heart, for you I’ll delve into cliché –
sorry I race when I should be listening,
sorry for amnesia and neglecting to consult;
thank you for outliving your enemies.

For the flaps and the harmless red spots
growing like volunteers in my field, for the un-
admired, the hidden, the folds my modesty
chooses to protect, I will try to love you.

                        Kathy Engel, August 2014

Published with the permission of the poet.


ke pr photo by Phillippe

Photo by Philippe Cheng

Kathy Engel is a poet, educator, cultural worker, and facilitator. She has worked for more than 35 years at the intersection of art, imagination, and social justice/change, co-founding, directing, and advising numerous organizations and projects, including MADRE, Riptide Communications, East End Women in Black. She is co-founder and co-director, with Alexis De Veaux, of Lyrical Democracies and its Center for Poetic Healing. Her books include Ruth’s Skirts (IKON) and We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon (Interlink Books), which she co-edited with Kamal Boullata. Poems have recently appeared in the anthology The Lake Rises and The Wide Shore, forthcoming in Poet Lore. She is Associate Professor and Chair of the Art and Public Policy Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Twitter: @NYUArtsPolitics     
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Join the conversation

  • ellensue spicer-jacobson November 9, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Wonderful! SO nice to read about cherishing our bodies instead of criticizing it!