Handbook of Suffering – Lesson 3

give pleasure when you give pain (for the mothers and wives of warriors)* 

reading a journalist’s battle memoir
all i can think as he wanders
from one charred and gutted body
to the next is testosterone does this!
and i love men– signs of their hormone
hair everywhere on their skins
pleasure of their guttural
bravado muscles butt the wagging strut
bearing the oh so tender scrotal sac
the anxious genital flag

tell me, can a woman be
more brutal than a man?
what am i looking away from?
is it damage or desire?  is there a way
to set eyes on what burns the eyes to ash?
there is a place in close i must not want to see
i come back i go away
wanting soul in a splendor of light
on dove wings to come to rest
feeling talons growing
from the darkness in my breast

all she wanted:

to rub shining hands across her
apron–this good mother of the reich
interviewed

forty years after the crimes.  she wanted
to laugh, to caress her child’s
face

she wanted to mother a dream
of perfect savage
holiness

in cruelty lies madness, in the state
the cruel madness of many men
in women ruled

by men, smiles that disguise
willing teeth, iron benevolence, selective
mercy,

estrogen, the pleasure of clean hands 

there is an old law: this depends on that
on our skulls that equation
balances

better to lift up all the rocks, watch the crawling
insects scatter, the grubs writhe in unaccustomed
light

survey every corner of our land, expose
all our dark, admit every holding
pen

each twisted wire barb, count corpses,
gravestones, and the missing.  when they don’t add up
exhume

the bones from pits beneath the sod
filter hunks of hair from cooking
pots

instead how many of us kiss the hands
that strike the killing
blows?

sweep and sweep the kitchen floor?
mend the uniforms, bleach out the stains
a map

of territories we inhabit
and do not dare to
name?

what men enjoy direct and bloody
close to exposed
bone

women want clean want orderly
the housewives
of murder

broody sheltered vicious
hiss in the ear we believe
in heaven

but estrogen can breed cruelty
lust born in glamour’s adrenalin
creates hell

tearing their enemies savagely the mothers
guard their cubs, then send them out
to kill or die 

with what ease a woman is more brutal
than a man.  all her threatened
energy

curled inward emerges molten
mirror of the cruelty that’s shaped her
and the fear

her greatest prize, her highest
honor: mother of warriors, mother
of death

following the trail left by the last
eggs in my dying ovaries
i settle into the nest of myself
i massage my thighs
what am i looking away from?

when will we understand?
this flesh can be torn like fabric
like leaves off a living tree
oh you teachers,if you want
every one to want to understand
our two-legged stupidities
our big-brain cruelties
our deadly passions

you must
give pleasure while  you give pain!
this is one of the eternal lessons
in the Handbook of Suffering

*this poem inspired by readings in Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics, Claudi Koontz, St Martin’s Press, 1987

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