Poetry

“Switchblade” and “Imperatives from the Late 1940s,” by Anne Harding Woodworth

Switchblade

Last night there were place cards
and bouquets. I recognized the name
next to me, not the face.

I asked him if he’d dated Sally Curtiss?
His eyes squinted toward me.

He’d married her, he said.
He’d divorced her, he said.
He’d lost his children to her, he said.

There’s bitterness in the pluperfect.

Back then, before the past, we were unripe.
I used to pull a switchblade out of my purse
at odd times for shock value.
It made the boys laugh.
Boys made me laugh
when they put cherry bombs
in post boxes along Route 233.

We laughed until we realized there is blood
mixed with strokes along thighs,
until we heard words uttered, oaths taken,
until kisses were not returned,
and the future beyond the simple present
held no laughter.

 

 

Imperatives in the Late 1940s

Watch how a woman readies herself for love,
undoes the chestnut chignon
wipes the red off her lips
reaches under her skirt for garters
that hold up her nylons
that are seamed from the back of her ankle
up through the middle of her calf
and her thigh, while he sits separate
in the dim maroon room and averts his eyes.

See how when the child’s head crowns,
he waits in a special room with cigars.
For him blood is too much of Normandy, the Pacific,
no different from what he knows is spilled
onto the tile floor during women’s work.
Sodium pentothal keeps her out of the room, too.
See how the doctor with his large hands
pulls an inert human being
from an inert female body.
Their nakedness makes not a sound.

Now open the Book of Common Prayer
and read of new mothers being “churched”
in a ritual from a virgin’s immaculate universe.
The only love is for a god: give “hearty thanks”
for safe delivery through “pain and peril,”
“the great danger of Child-birth.”
Read the imperatives: enter the sanctuary
“decently appareled”—as if the new mother
might appear in pedal pushers
or veiled and ambling in on a she-ass.

 

First published in The Eyes Have It (Turning Point 2018), reprinted here with permission of the press. The Eyes Have It is available here and here.

 

Read a May 2018 Grace Cavalieri review of The Eyes Have It here, and listen to the poet reading her villanelle “Francesca’s Song” here.

Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of six books of poetry and four chapbooks. Her chapbook The Last Gun, written in the voice of the last gun in existence, won the 2016 COG Poetry Award, judged by A. Van Jordan and subsequently animated with narration by Joseph DiPrisco (watch it here). Harding Woodworth’s poetry documents the past and present in her observations of people, human quirkiness, nature, and history. She is currently working on a seventh book, as well as a series of “convolutes,” which are amalgams of phrases out of popular culture (magazines, catalogs, government documents, etc.). The word “convolute” comes from Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), who compiled phrases, photographs, and documents to create new art. As the mother of two former professional soccer players, Greg and Alexi Lalas, Harding Woodworth was the first chair of DC Scores, an afterschool soccer-and-poetry program for grades 3 through 8 in Washington, D.C. It is part of the national program, AmericaScores. Harding Woodworth’s poetry, essays, and reviews are published in anthologies and literary journals in print and online, at home and abroad, such as in TriQuarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, Antiphon, Poet Lore, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Antigonish Review, New Verse News, and Crannog. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is cochair of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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