Compass, poems by Robin Morgan
Robin Morgan has published over 20 books—poetry, novels, political nonfiction, and the now-classic anthologies Sisterhood Is Powerful, Sisterhood Is Global, and Sisterhood Is Forever. Her first poetry collection, Monster, became an international cause célebrè; her nonfiction The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, and her memoir, Saturday’s Child, were best-sellers; her work is widely translated. A recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Prize in Poetry and numerous other honors, and a former Editor-in-Chief of Ms. magazine, she co-founded The Sisterhood Is Global Institute with Simone de Beauvoir and co-founded The Women’s Media Center with Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem. An architect of contemporary U.S. feminism, she has also been an activist in the global women’s movement for decades. She writes and hosts Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, a prize-winning radio broadcast/podcast with an international online audience at iTunes and www.WMCLive.com, and writes a popular weekly blog.
Giants at the Corner Table
for SBL, JE, GS, and MT
New at being old, they marvel at it:
aches in places they never knew they had,
memory lapses, the unrecognizable
stooped image scurrying past
the shop window reflection.
They laugh about it wryly, comparing notes.
These particular new old women have been friends
and colleagues for 40 years. For 30 of those years,
once jobs took them on differing paths,
all five have met for dinner every month
no matter what other social occasions
they might also share. Close to 400 dinners.
They have marched and picketed, lobbied,
fundraised, sat in; still do. And seen each other through
childbirths, weddings, divorce, hospitals, book parties,
funerals, birthdays. They bring small presents
back from trips, share running jokes. They’ve learned
to tolerate in one another what they could not love.
And they have rituals:
the white wine drinker who likes a separate glass of ice;
the one who brightens when ordering dessert;
the one who can’t stand cinnamon in her cappuccino;
the one who would dine at 5 PM if they let her;
the one who takes home leftovers for next day’s lunch.
One has been married for 40 years yet stayed herself.
Two stayed themselves and never married.
One married late and briefly,
the fifth early and long, freeing herself at last.
Two have grown children,
three have lived child-free. Five.
Well, it was five. One now lost–to youth, the irony
being that despite her age she was so young she rode
her motorbike to the final moment, doing what she loved.
Then there were four.
No one now takes cinnamon in her cappuccino.
There will be three someday, then two, then one.
That one will carry in herself some of the best of all of us
because in each other’s presence some of the best
of each of us came forth. And when she goes,
the women we were to one another
will all wink out, the work we’ve shared
lasting perhaps a little while beyond us.
For now, we go on witnessing each other ride the current
out to sea, aware our time’s not open ended.
We cling like lovers when we part, we say
I love you before hanging up the phone, and one
to one we all confide concerns about the others’ health.
Laughter’s astringency balances such tenderness.
But when young ones, unseasoned, condescend,
a voice in each of us hisses Watch it, child. You have no clue
who’s living under this disguise; for if our true height
could be measured, you’d see how low we stoop for you,
how if we straightened we would wear
the clouds for garlands in our hair.
There’s a lost south in me, a place where joy,
though costly, was a common middle name.
Tomorrow, there, had elsewhere stayed today,
solstices changed places, nothing was the same.
There at the world’s edge, the antipodes,
with all the stars and seasons rearranged,
earth’s axis seemed to shift and gravity’s
force drew me in. My latitudes since then have changed.
A lost love, like a phantom limb, gestures
emptily, making itself felt through pain.
So ached this south in me for many years.
But the world is round, and the lost self was regained
once, seeking my own south, I ventured forth
in due course, with due diligence, due north.
A young musician’s songs about the cruelty
of an old love sent you flying, to your surprise,
on a trapeze high beneath your dreams,
through the release and catch of your own
now-decades-dead desire. Hard to believe after so long
that grip has suffered so little loosening.
It was a minor grief, no genocide, no earthquake,
merely a broken start. Everyone told you so.
But after you stand in the middle of the room
a vigilant ringmaster, long enough;
after you learn it will circle around you
for years, adapting its path to circumvent
your whip, after you realize your scar
tissue from its claws is as close to healing
as you’re going to get, you come to comprehend how
what was temporary is permanent after all.
Closure is a word that has no meaning.
But time and space do, they approximate distance.
Besides, life crowds out anything only half-alive.
Flesh does tire, and passion lessens. Soon,
you expect, you’ll get to give up juggling.
Finally, you glimpse the trick: your memories
die when you do, not before–unless you turn
childlike, speechless, sucking cotton candy,
awestruck at the circus your life’s become,
at the normality of freaks, clowns, and the wild
animal perched sullen on a tiny stool, at how
what was permanent is temporary after all.
Still, you are not ever safe from love’s cruel melodies
however sweetly the young musician sings.
There can be no such thing as closure.
When you prod the beast, it springs.
The Magician and The Magician’s Assistant
I‘ve had me up my sleeve
I‘ve pulled me from my hat
I’ve planted myself in the audience
as the patsy I dare to decipher my tricks—
safe I can never see through me.
The Magician and The Magician’s Assistant–
I‘ve been both for so long.
Introducing myself with a smile and a flair
and a white-gloved bow to applause. Then
making myself disappear.
Well, I can tell you I’m done
dodging knives flung at my head,
done being folded into cramped crates,
sawed into pieces again and again. I am done,
in short, with being The Magician’s Assistant.
From here on in, I need no assistant,
no props, no stage, no audience.
From here on in, all that’s left
is The Magician.
Or so I thought.
That was before I could comprehend
that I’m also done flinging the knives,
bowing, smiling, drowning
in chains upside down, done
holding my breath.
So nothing is left to perform now.
Sorry to disappoint.
I have my own bare hands full
from here on in, all that’s left is the magic.
© Robin Morgan