Celebrating Women Poets Following International Woman’s Day – Two Poems by Samantha Fain and One by Me

American poet Samantha Fain

Woman as Wet Collection

He tells me, this is science.
These are facts. Your body
bakes the bread. Your knees
bond to the floorboards. Scrub.

Whisper. Speak white noise
but don’t sleep. Warm my shadow.
Keep your knuckles beneath the table
or in the dough. Don’t ask me
to repeat myself, don’t question
my tongue collection on the shelves.

You come from women who float
and marinate in formaldehyde,
who scooped their eyes into jars,
boiled their lips, and served
silence for dinner. Inherit
their dormancy. Be stiff.

He tells me, your body
is my temple. Perish.

Samatha Fain from The Indianapolis Review, Fall, 2017

When I read this poem a few weeks ago I was struck by its unapologetic harshness. Woman as object. Woman as subject to a man. Woman as subjected to a man. But as jarring as the poem felt, the craft and power in it captured me. I trusted its narrator. This awful isness of domination. Of inequality, in any form.

The cold confidence of so many of the lines: Speak white noise; don’t question my tongue collection on the shelves; who scooped their eyes into jars,/ boiled their lips, and served silence for dinner.

The startling imperatives that slow down the poem. That interject like slaps against the face. Scrub, whisper, speak, keep, don’t ask me and the awful final imperative: Perish. Whew. But as harsh a poem this, as disquieting, I an grateful to Samantha Fain for creating an isness that many women in the world still live under in one form or another. To remind us that inequality between men and women is still very real and present. A good reminder in the shadow of International Women’s Day. This reality many women still live under.

Sam is an undergraduate at Franklin College, a liberal arts school in Franklin, Indiana, USA, who has been quietly getting her work out there and published for the past three or four years. She has yet to to have a book in the world but I imagine that will happen sooner than later. I came across Sam, as many did, a few weeks ago when her poem WHEN WE MAKE LOVE SOMEONE IS ALAYS CRYING was published in Rattle’s on-line weekly, or sometimes twice-weekly, Poet’s Respond which features a poem based on a news event from the previous week.


The sex is starless, at first,
hits like too much rain,
our bodies wet tomato peels
rubbing on each other.
I know it’s time when
you take your glasses off
and rest them on the windowsill.
We grow into it, our love a pair of pants,
while the rest of the world smokes.
Fires destroy Australia.
Pangolins, your favorite animal,
edge extinction. The hens
outside have stopped singing.
They are sad, sick of the losing,
weary of everything
these days, even their own eggs,
fearing the hands that steal them
from beneath their stomachs
each morning, next after next.
Still, they trill for change,
although nothing will change.
The wildfires will spread,
the pangolins’ keratin will fade,
there will be another unexplainable violence—
some white knife, some pear skin—
and we will be here, making love again
as if our bodies, together, bring meaning.

Samantha Fain from Rattle – Poets Respond – Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

What I appreciated in this poem was the freshness of Sam’s language. And with that language how adritly she yanks me in her poem. First with the title. The jarring juxtaposition of making love and the sadness of someone, somewhere, crying. Then, in the first line, the unexpected phrase, The sex is starless, followed by our bodies wet tomato peels. I aplaud her boldness especially with wet tomato peels! But I think it works. As does the unusual metaphor: our love a pair of pants!

They way Sam (her narrator) juxtaposes making love, and describing that in such a slant and lovely way with the destruction and chaos going on around her creates a chemistry in the poem which adds a tenderness that enriches the poem greatly. Makes sure  that the poem doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming  an eco-poem rant. Or a holier-than-thou scold. Instead the outside events, the fires, the Pangolin’s fading keratin, the quieter than normal chickens become part of a domestic reality. Become an ingredient that, for me, makes the lovemaking more meaningful and significant. A way of saying love doesn’t have to be defeated in these darkening days of a pandemic and climate disruptions.

The last two lines of the poem feel just right:

and we will be here, making love again
as if our bodies, together, bring meaning.

Thanks to Sam for reminding us of the importance of the personal when faced with impersonal events that seem to dwarf our significance. We mustn’t let them! We must try and not go numb but remain vulnerable and not afraid to share deep intimacies. To be that open and willing to risk love and all its uncertainties.

Sam’s poem reminds me of a poignant moment in Guy Gavriel Kay’s book Under Heaven which takes place in the dying days of the T’ang Dynasty, that time which featured some of China’s most enduring and important poetic voices. In a scene when on the Emperors’s concubine is killed by soldiers the novel’s key protagonist asks his poet friend (based on Li Po) Should there be birdsong?” His friend, answers: No, and yes. We do what we do, and the world continues. Somewhere a child is being born and the parents are tasting a joy they never imagined. And later the poet says: We will pick our way through the shards of broken objects folly leaves behind. And some of what breaks will be very beautiful.

Yes in spite of all, as long as climate change doesn’t keep getting worse, we will keep hearing the birds, and we will keep making love. And, this I truly hope: we will read poems like Sam’s and be inspired to work toward making the changes needed to make our world safer and as longlasting as possible in terms of our huge impact on it.

And Sam, please get a book out soon! We need it!

And  here I would like to add a poem of mine into the mix. It is not related to any celebration of International Women’s Day or women poets but it’s a poem that tried to tackle the same subject as Sam’s Rattle poem.  How faced with the unspeakable difficulties in the world, turning to another person, a lover, for comfort, seems to be a stay against despair , against giving up. And I am aware, as I share my poem, how different our voices are. Our poetic footprint.  And I think Sam might have a lighter touch than I do. Something for me to learn from!

How is it tenderness enters despair

and makes a place for longing? What she said
after making love: how the story of the elephant
opened the book of her body, her words: because tenderness is missing
in the world. And the other book she knew: The Woman
Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them. Her distress:
the Asian elephant calf abandoned in its cement-block cage, its cries,
its weight too much for its wounded legs. How that ruin
travelled through the miles of her blood until she arrived,
a bright flame, into his arms.
She led and he followed her light.
Together they traveled great distances in capillary and heart-thrum
called by something no one else can hear. And how is it they knew,
the wild elephants of Thula Thula, for miles, walking across KwaZula-Natal
to stand vigil at the house of a dead man, the one who saved them years before?/
Two days later, the turn back, slow, so slowly,
for the journey home. These recollections,
so strange they seem to him. Yet in the tenderness after and after
she wept, their spent bodies, he breathed out his sadness never felt as a boy, lost/
in a boy’s wonder – the umbrella stand in his grandmother’s house, the foot
of the elephant killed by her uncle in 1912. And now this column
of ghostly elephants moving through him. How is it
the invisible calls and we, sometimes, listen?

Richard Osler, 2019

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