While marking up poems for my workshop this afternoon, I came across a familiar narrative. One of my students, a strong and intelligent woman, wrote a poem describing a mythic lake full of our wasted products, awaiting any kind of change. It is a story women know, that the mind is a storehouse of the unsightly and the difficult, and thus, we must, as Adrienne Rich encourages, go in. The thing I came for: / the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth. But going in, this is not always easy to do. In fact, it rarely is. The poems and prose encompassing the latest volume of Persephone’s Daughters goes in and takes this one step further: We have been inside the wreck a very long time; by whatever means necessary, we must tear through and slide back into the world, dazzled by our names, the journey of our names. As Sophie Strand says in “The Vacant Sense,” apropos of the wreck, “If there is a void where the story / should rest /. . . / is there a girl afterwards?” There is.
For years I have sat in my wreck, the way so many women have, asking myself if what happened really did happen. I would say that if any phrase could best describe my life, it wouldn’t be a clever idiom or maxim, but the simple, interrogative What happened? What a relief, then, that a space has been carved to sharply examine the ethos of the question, the wreck and not the story of the wreck, and to find a stronger basis by which to thrash, throttle, and tear at the memory of abuse, to build abuse back into the men who did harm. Kelsey Moore does this in her exquisite story, “Ravening,” in which Little Red Riding Hood finds herself in the belly of the wolf. Bianca Phipps sears the male gaze in her poem, “To Be a Goddess, When They Want to Make You a Dog” when Aphrodite is set before a crowd of catcalling men. Maeve Dwyer gives us permission to make our abusers weep and ache and torture themselves with what they’ve done to us, how we’ve endured from it, in her essay, “Hushed Verses of Anatomy.” The ramshackle is ours and we give it freely back to the source of damage.
The visuals accompanying this issue madden the pages with slick, feminine violence. Over drinks once with a friend, we commiserated in the knowledge that all women share a violation. So too one gets this sense when a mirror replaces a woman’s face, an image which invites me to recall Marguerite Duras’s notion of the ravaged face in The Lovers and to conclude that being seen as women is a socioeconomic trap. We are seen; we are therefore inspected and consumed. And yet the wet unearthing of women bare and standing before us in these series of visuals and texts begs a different narrative. If with ballet slippers, also a knife. If we bleed, it is not always, as Rebecca Egan tells us, due to the moon. And so even as we experience the iconography of contemporary women, we have brought extra tools into the scene with a means to not simply shift dichotomies, but to split it and dash its remnants in the sea. Because we must, as Mel Mastache insists, talk about it. Because we must one day dive into the sea to feel ourselves alive inside it, having risked our lives and changed the wreck.
Natalie Eilbert is the author of Indictus, winner of Noemi Press’s 2016 Poetry Contest, slated for publication in late 2017, as well as the debut poetry collection, Swan Feast (Bloof Books, 2015). She is the recipient of the 2016 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship at University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she is serving a one-year academic appointment. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, and elsewhere. She is the founding editor of The Atlas Review.