The moon is always female and so
am I although often in this vale
of razorblades I have wished I could
put on and take off my sex like a dress
and why not? Do men always wear their sex
always? The priest, the doctor, the teacher
all tell us they come to their professions
neuter as clams and the truth is
when I work I am pure as an angel
tiger and clear is my eye and hot
my brain and silent all the whining
grunting piglets of the appetites.
For we were priests to the goddesses
to whom were fashioned the first altars
of clumsy stone on stone and leaping animal
in the wombdark caves, long before men
put on skirts and masks to scare babies.
For we were healers with herbs and poultices
with our milk and careful fingers
long before they began learning to cut up
the living by making jokes at corpses.
For we were making sounds from our throats
and lips to warn and encourage the helpless
young long before schools were built
to teach boys to obey and be bored and kill.
I wake in a strange slack empty bed
of a motel, shaking like dry leaves
the wind rips loose, and in my head
is bound a girl of twelve whose female
organs all but the numb womb are being
cut from her with a knife. Clitoridectomy,
whatever Latin name you call it, in a quarter
of the world girl children are so maimed
and I think of her and I cannot stop.
And I think of her and I cannot stop.
If you are a woman you feel the knife in the words.
If you are a man, then at age four or else
at twelve you are seized and held down
and your penis is cut off. You are left
your testicles but they are sewed to your
crotch. When your spouse buys you, you
are torn or cut open so that your precious
semen can be siphoned out, but of course
you feel nothing. But pain. But pain.
For the uses of men we have been butchered
and crippled and shut up and carved open
under the moon that swells and shines
and shrinks again into nothingness, pregnant
and then waning toward its little monthly
death. The moon is always female but the sun
is female only in lands where females
are let into the sun to run and climb.
A woman is screaming and I hear her.
A woman is bleeding and I see her
bleeding from the mouth, the womb, the breasts
in a fountain of dark blood of dismal
daily tedious sorrow quite palatable
to the taste of the mighty and taken for granted
that the bread of domesticity be baked
of our flesh, that the hearth be built
of our bones of animals kept for meat and milk,
that we open and lie under and weep.
I want to say over the names of my mothers
like the stones of a path I am climbing
rock by slippery rock into the mists.
Never even at knife point have I wanted
or been willing to be or become a man.
I want only to be myself and free.
I am waiting for the moon to rise. Here
I squat, the whole country with its steel
mills and its coal mines and its prisons
at my back and the continent tilting
up into mountains and torn by shining lakes
all behind me on this scythe of straw,
a sand bar cast on the ocean waves, and I
wait for the moon to rise red and heavy
in my eyes. Chilled, cranky, fearful
in the dark I wait and I am all the time
climbing slippery rocks in a mist while
far below the waves crash in the sea caves;
I am descending a stairway under the groaning
sea while the black waters buffet me
like rockweed to and fro.
I have swum the upper waters leaping
in dolphin's skin for joy equally into the nec-
cessary air and the tumult of the powerful wave.
I am entering the chambers I have visited.
I have floated through them sleeping and sleep-
walking and waking, drowning in passion
festooned with green bladderwrack of misery.
I have wandered these chambers in the rock
where the moon freezes the air and all hair
is black or silver. Now I will tell you
what I have learned lying under the moon
naked as women do: now I will tell you
the changes of the high and lower moon.
Out of necessity's hard stones we suck
what water we can and so we have survived,
women born of women. There is knowing
with the teeth as well as knowing with
the tongue and knowing with the fingertips
as well as knowing with words and with all
the fine flickering hungers of the brain.