2 Poems by Rhonda Houser

This Power, A Ghazal
 
A large crowd, mainly women, are taking back this power,
this right to choose, for their body, this pain and bliss power.
 
They are chanting and their signs are saying:
‘Grandmother, and mother, and sis power.’
 
‘Women’s rights are human rights,’ see
it’s not a moan and piss power.
 
‘Can’t believe we’re fighting for this still.’
It’s a we might and scratch and hiss power.
 
‘Get your bans off my body. Birth control is good
for the Earth,’ you don’t want to miss power.
 
The animal I am, human then, and woman is not
a radical, just standing up, righteous, for this power.
 



Degrees of Freedom
 
In Grandma’s yellow kitchen (circa 1993),
the aunts and one uncle do the dishes.
“Are you chasing an M-R-S
at that big University?”
another uncle says to me.
I break a cracker in the cheeseball.
I’d never heard of this degree,
but could roll you in a rug Uncle,
for all the ways you underestimate
the fire of my newfound freedom,
the fields of possibility beyond this town.
 
At Grandma’s funeral, still
wedded to his gut, and twice-divorced,
he chides me half-heartedly.
I look past him to what
the women in my family
gave up with their last names.
 
My mother’s maiden name was Rainey;
(her father’s name); her mother’s
maiden name was Leiser (HER father’s name).
Her mother was a Schmied; the pattern repeats.
Handed like gifts from father to husband
and labeled with his name.
 
Not much left to hold: old stories,
photographs and letters:
Flora rode a horse to teach
at the one-room school
all through the winter.
She drew graceful plants and birds
that grew restless in her notebook.
Her calling narrowed to watching
red birds from the kitchen sink.
Eliza had gleaming hair and hollow cheeks.
When she died of TB, her husband kept the boys;
and sent the girls to different homes.
 
Lena turns a neat heel; her curls
hold for all time; red lips defy
the black and white photo.
Granny Mabel looks up in a
half-smile, her chickens all around.
Her nursing degree hung
on the wall of the farm she never left.
She refused to marry,
seeing so many friends
in binding matrimony.
 
They could not choose
how to love and who,
to live alone,
to smile when they wanted to,
go to work or stay at home.
They knew the dread of
bleeding and not bleeding,
that each year could bring
another baby, valleys of hurt and love,
scribed in tiny headstones.
If they made it 40 weeks,
if they both survive the labor,
the baby gets the father’s name.
 
I can’t go back far enough;
all the names belong to men,
even mine.
But it’s women where the life is made,
Who work their hands and faces thin.
Whose strength and luminosity
should not be hindered or defined
by a name that’s not their own.
When do all our shining truths come home?


Rhonda Houser is an emerging poet living in the Midwest. She writes mainly poetry, but also essays and creative non-fiction. She writes alongside her career as a map maker and data wrangler. She has published poetry in 100 word story, Any Key Review, and Potpourri.

The Coop: A Poetry Cooperative’s Editor, Laura Lee Washburn, has selected July’s poems around the site’s current theme “We’re Speaking” to capture voices pushing back against the current attacks in the U.S. on human rights and on democracy. Citizens of Kansas have an attack on their state constitution on the ballot August 2nd on which we hope they will vote no in order to preserve the Kansas legacy of being a free state in which all citizens have bodily autonomy. We stand in solidarity with all people affected by current rulings from the radicalized Supreme Court.

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