An Alphabet of Poets – D is for Doubiago

To celebrate National Poetry Month I am featuring a new poet for each day of April. I will be at my abecedarian best and go through the alphabet from a to z, with a few letters getting more than one post!

from Outlaw


I am the woman alone on the road at night
you catch in your headlights
Afraid, you do not stop

I walk the middle of the world
with a child at each side
another tied to a scarf on my back

Tonight we will sleep in a cold open field
I will lay my hands on its heart

I will blanket them with pine needles
I will hear the screech and groan of wagon wheels
I will pull dead Indians from the soil

I will be thankful I have not house or land
I will be thankful I have no money

I am a woman I walk in the middle of the world
I follow the cross of the gypsy trail
over the world and back

Sharon Doubiago from  Love on the Streets, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008

When a poet marries rage and violence and makes of these two cruelties something at times,so tender, so beautiful, I, the reader, fall back against all my easy assumptions all my privileged complacencies and keep falling into a dis-ease, a discomfort, a disorientation and a dislocation that relocates me to poetry’s gritty inner city. The beauty there you can bet your life on even as you lose it – the life you thought you knew.

The poetry of Sharon Doubiago does all this and more. Especially for me as a man. Her woman’s voice strips me clean of preconceptions and preconditioning. She is not nearly as well known as American poets like Louise Gluck, Sharon Olds or Dorianne Laux but I wish she was.

from Son

The bullet shot through me
and lodged beneath my heart
and swelled and grew until the birth
was a man I rode between my legs
into the bloodstained hands of the world.


Earth got inside me
too large you came against
my young’s girl will
you came too large, I broke
you were not
you were the first thing not
my will

You were large in me
the child I could not know
what was coming

Doubiago, born in Californiain the 1940’s, has written five books of poetry including  Love on the Streets – Selected and New Poems published in 2008. Recipient of countless awards and honours for her poetry and prose, she was nominated for the National Book Award twice for her third poetry book which was named Best Book of the Year by the LAWeekly.

Doubiago is noted also as an accomplished short story writer and memoirist. Her 16 page memoir of her father’s sexual abuse published in 1969 became a ground-breaking classic which she recently greatly expanded into a full length memoir called My Father’s Love, Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl, Volume One.

In the introduction to her memoir on her website Doubiago  does not hold anything back. Here are two excerpts:

When my father was dying he confessed the rape. Observing me writing in my journal during his final illness a family friend asked what I was doing. “She’s writing it all down for when we croak,” he quipped from out of his coma. Minutes before her death, my mother, who had mostly maintained that she didn’t believe me, divorced my father “spiritually forever,” acknowledging, at least, his betrayal of her. I was the caretaker of both in their long dyings…

“Surely all art,” Carolyn Forché says, “begins in a wound.”… Sexually abused children learn to leave the body during the ordeal; they develop out-of-body consciousness… My book is about the evolution of a poet, in survival of family and society—and prose, if you will. …The fragmented nightmare images rooted in actual occurrences, and the waves of emotional terror, love, and faith turned into images, sound, rhythm and meaning of poetry, to language communicated as fragments, as in the linebreaks of poetry—that is, language fragmenting prevailing consciousness, sometimes into prayer, and even paranormal seeing and prophecy…

from Son

And then you came, too large you came
larger than anything that had ever happened
larger than anything that will ever happen

Shattering everything. Love
ripped through me
the violent encounter of my life
I was not prepared

my heart            broke

open                  my

baby                  boy



I had not known
love before
I will not know
love again, no man

could ever pull me             like you
turned me
back around
down to you, so small at my breast
too large
I was not
too small
I was not

like the famous Pieta, the too-large
Son in his mother’s lap
we visited when we were

too large with your sister

No one ever
told me, strange
how women never tell

your birth the birth of love for me

your birth the birth of death for me

your birth the death of God for me

God died when you were born
He was too small.


Doubiago’s poems tend to be longer, at least more than a page. That’s why I excerpted two  passages from Son, above. Below is her astonishing poem How To Make Love To A Man. I am grateful for the discomfort her poems bring me. I am not grateful for her wounding but I am so blessed by her poetic art that began there in that fierce rending.

How To Make Love To A Man

Run your tongue down the two tendons both sides
of his neck. Run your tongue back and forth
along the ridge of the underside.
Run your tongue along the ridges of the head, inside his
fingers, thighs, Adam’s apple, Achilles’ tendon. Wet
the rigid shaft of his calf, the long hairs sticking up from his toes
and the ones lying down over them like little blankets. Love
his ridges, his frigid Soul. Think
glacially. Constant motion, advancing slowly. Remember
penis envy is what men have of each other. Remember no man
can will an erection. Have him enter you awhile,
the knee chest position to dissolve the ridges. Remember
he’s terrified. Remember it’s all he wants. Remember
he seeks confidence you know how to handle
his body, you’ll grip him firmly enough. Remember for a man
the importance of technique. Remember like gripping
a tennis racket. Remember he’s
emotional. When he comes be careful
not to tighten your grip. Be careful not to forget
the battlefields he comes to you from. Forget them, the lies
he must overcome to come to you. Forget
that to be a “man” is to be unjust. Remember his mother
removed him from their bed, deposited him
on the narrow mattress with bars in the cold cell alone. Make
love to all his ex-loves who live in him as surely as he
makes love to yours though he seeks to banish them.
Though he will say so kindly I wish you were free. He
wishes to be free. Help him with trance, wear
silk, light candles, wear levis and flannel, wear
nothing, don’t undress. Remember
just dissolve. Remember no jerky movements. Remember
his greatest fear, he won’t be able to please you, he’ll lose
it, let you down. Remember your walls
to clasp and unclasp him. (Some will resent this, you will know
who. Remember every man is different
and when it becomes the dance
with each’s spirit, when the river is more swift
than flesh, when you break through to the place remember
expose yourself. Let him see you. When he comes be
careful not to change. Remember the ridges
you roamed to get here, the fall
either side. Where the road began. Where you are going.
When he begins to ascend toward the body cavity
forming a firm rounded mass when the ocean synchronistically
booms approval his edge of aggression, when you ride
his aggression till you disremember everything remember
this is time this is earth this is life this is you. Remember
so great is his love he wants all women.

from Love on the Streets

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