Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"She leaves" by Marge Piercy

Love Your Body Poster Contest
Grand Prize Winner, 2005

designed by Diana Fabre of Canton, Ohio

As you know there's nothing I love better than a literary coincidence; and who doesn't love finding something that's been lost for ages?! So I was doubly delighted on my birthday (two weeks ago today), when my friend Katy gave me a poster, featuring the above design by Diane Fabre and the following lines from Marge Piercy's poem "Right to Life":

"I will choose . . .
what enters me,
what becomes flesh of my flesh.
Without choice,
no politics, no ethics lives.
I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine,
not your calf for fattening,
not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators
do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body.
If I give it to you I want it back.
My life is a non-negotiable demand."

(copyright by Marge Piercy;
published by Alfred A. Knopf)

The words of this poem were new to me; however, they rang a bell of familiarity in my mind. What was it I could hear? Click! Something in the tone, the imagery, made me think of "She leaves," the poem whose author I have been in search of for such a long time. Click!

Over the years, I have googled so many names, so many keywords, with no result. But this year, on my birthday, something clicked! I tried "Marge Piercy" along with the title . . . and . . . yes! Success at last!

Thanks Katy! ~ for some of the best birthday presents ever: an inspiring anthology entitled Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, a "Trust Women" button, a bold, beautiful poster by Diana Fabre, and -- at long last! -- a rewarding solution to the protracted mystery of who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems.

Here's a repeat of my post from awhile back, about the poem "She leaves" which -- as I now know -- is by Marge Piercy and can be found in her book To Be Of Use (copyright by Marge Piercy; published by Doubleday):

Save Your Own Life
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
--Anais Nin (1903– 1977)
French / Cuban author, journal writer

Twenty - five years ago, I copied a couple of poems -- "She leaves" and "The Journey" -- into one of my special notebooks. The timely message of these poems spoke to my past experiences with painful accuracy. It was a big breakthrough for me to realize that I had to save my own life, that no one else could to do it for me. I have long admired the wisdom of these two authors and have tried to hold their insights in my heart. Re-reading the poems slowly and carefully has shown me how applicable they are to making any kind of life - changing transition, to cutting free from any kind of overly binding connection, bad romantic liaison or otherwise.

Strangely, however, I neglected to include the author's name on my photocopy of "She leaves," then also failed to write it in by hand. No, it's not like me to lose track of a source like this, but somehow it happened. So for the past two decades, I've been trying to recall who wrote this poem and what book I found it in. I have searched through every poetry book I own and typed in every google search I can think of, but no luck yet. If anyone can think of any way to track it down -- or better yet, if you recognize this poem and know who wrote it -- please advise. It must be out there somewhere!

POEM ONE: She leaves

Someone you fell in love with
when you were virgin and succulent,
soft and sticky in strong hands.

How you twined over him, rampant
and flowing, a trumpet vine.
How you flourished in the warm weather
and died down to your roots
in the cold, when that regularly came.

Then slowly you began to discover
you might grown on your own spine.
You might dare to make wood.

What a damp persistent guilt come down
from ceasing to need.
Every day you fight free,
every morning you wake tied
with that gossamer web,
bound to him sleeping with open
vulnerable face and closed eyes
stuck to your side.

You meet others open while awake:
you leap to them. The pain
in his face trips you.
You serve him platters of cold gratitude.
They poison you and he thrives.

What a long soft dying this is between you.
Drown that whining guilt
in laughter and polemics. You were trained
like a dog in obedience school
and you served for years in bed, kitchen, laundry room.
You loved him as his mother always told him
he deserved to be loved.
Now love yourself.


POEM TWO: The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Poem found in Dream Work, 38 - 39
By Mary Oliver (b 1935)
Contemporary American Poet
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1984

Along the same lines as the poems above, Germaine Greer writes, "Such counsel [to break free from the "million Lilliputian threads" of a bad relationship] will be called encouragement of irresponsibility, but the woman who accepts a way of life which she has not knowingly chosen, acting out a series of contingencies falsely presented as destiny, is truly irresponsible. To abdicate one's own moral understanding, to tolerate crimes against humanity, to leave everything to someone else . . . is the only irresponsibility. To deny that a mistake has been made when its results are chaos visible and tangible on all sides, that is irresponsibility. What oppression lays upon us is not responsibility but guilt."

from The Female Eunuch (1970), 9 - 10
by Germaine Greer (born 29 January 1939)
Australian - born feminist writer and scholar


  1. This is, I think, my favorite Marge Piercy poem http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/to-be-of-use-poem-by-marge-piercy.html

  2. Thanks Carole!

    Everyone, go take a look at Carole's Chatter!