National Poetry Month Day 28: Kathleen Ossip





In Opposition


Day of Rage,
how necessary.

There’s nothing a woman can do
with her anger that won’t lead to

The Humiliation Thing:
This is a me poem about humiliation.

The poem yields fresh depictions of fear and grief.
As a bladder is a bag,

the poem is also a bag,
a receptacle in which you put what you don’t want

and still you have to carry it.
Look at your hands:

there are only two options:
a punch or a slap.

I was lucky: I was only on the SSRI for a year.
I only had electric needle headaches

for six months after I stopped.
Doctor, you said that withdrawal

was “likely” causing them.
A brain cancer unlikely.

I was lucky: I had a job that paid me
1/3 of what I was worth.

I was lucky: I was made in an unhappy family
and I took my rage and made a sometimes unhappy family

in a house, on a street, with schools
and a store.

Well it’s the 21st century.
Butchery transpires

and acquires
and will not be transformed.

Humiliation is not butchery.
So things could be much much worse.

Humiliation is too sick for blame,
but everybody hates mom, let’s blame her,

she’s groaning with exhaustion,
a hollow statue

upended, chunks of plaster missing,
and ants crawling through on trails of sand.

The pills were a spectacular success, Doctor:
Subject no longer sobs every day

and cannot have an orgasm.
O give me the universals, I deserve them

in their blank plenitude
that distracts and distracts.

Give me tasty meals too,
I stalk them in my animality.

While the dal was cooking
I worked the puzzle:

Military morale booster, three letters:                WAR.

I stepped over my non-mentor
laid out on the sidewalk

like a dropped slice of pizza.
He liked me fine until I was pregnant.

He liked me fine until I was ambitious
in a way that ignored him.

He liked me fine until I disagreed with him
about the color of my eyes.

He liked me fine until my poems got confessional,
until I “missed”

his tight jeans references.
Oops, I’d sat on the Bad Girl Cushion.

Is there no other way
to be realized?

After the poison, each time,
itch and scab over, itch and scab over.

But you write such lively poems!
But you take such joy in artmaking laughing fucking!

It’s true.
Don’t pull me down, Grammar.

Divide me forever
from the buzzing coherence

our era of lavish competence
turns out.

Declaration on a Sunday:
I’ll fuck you when you’re 80

makes me whole.
Doctor, tell me what’s wrong

and how to fix it.

don’t come at me with your filth-language.
You have seen to the very weakest part of me.

By this I mean
my mind

by which I mean
this sad sad rag of rage.

Oh yes I worship life
in its smallest circumferences, flesh, fiber,

buzz, tinkle, whoosh. Even pizza!
What I mean is that the circumferences

allow little air so that
the fragrances are obstructed and

the light distorting and
that I was doomed tragedically

unlike everyone else,
doomed in a special way,

I decided to do it, do a whole

glowing nubile half-century,
in disguise.

Red-orange gloss and evasions made of me
a defector

from my true land.
A very visible humiliation.

Victim of failed surgery —
surgery that involved

the ripping of hymens,
the flattening of knees,

the tamping down of cheer in the eyes,
the razing of the Grand Experiment

of noteworthiness.
Grammar, I am told that word order

and the difference between lie and lay
are women’s problems,

for language is one-use and evanescent
and nimblest when tapped

for the purposes of commerce
and vice.

Doctor, I am told that the goal of a mommy makeover
is to restore the shape and appearance

of a woman’s body after childbearing.
There are many areas of the body that can be addressed,

most commonly the breasts, abdomen,
waist, genitalia and buttocks.

And although I know that time will bear me
out, it won’t bear me as a river would,

from a place of rush to a place of rest.
That’s the difference between idiom and water.

Humiliation is both,
how we jabber and thirst!

And if it is not yet clear,
this poem relates a woman’s experience

peacetime or wartime,
city or village,

the nominee or the woman
who wipes her tile floor

free of crud
every Tuesday.

In this way we are sisters
who do not love each other well enough

and who do not use language nimbly enough
nor rage with enough brawn.

Here we sit and stand and work
and by 10 p.m. we can’t think.

There is no sidewalk,
no dropped slice of pizza.

That was only a flaccid
metaphoric wish.

The non-mentor
is investigated

and retires with distinction.
His work lives on and on.

Humiliation is endless,
and T.S. Eliot can just shut up.

We end on a photo of Kathleen Ossip,
a woman

in a gray tee-shirt
who has spent a lifetime

engaging deeply with this text.


Photograph of Kathleen Ossip courtesy of Kathleen Ossip.

Kathleen Ossip is the author of three books of poetry: The Do-Over, which was a New York Times Editors' Choice; The Cold War, which was one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2011; and The Search Engine, selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize. Her book July is forthcoming. She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. More from this author →