Two Poems by Jo Angela Edwins

Inside the Purses

of women who stand in line to vote
are lipsticks and compacts,
gum packs and tissues,
wallets, loose change and key rings,
and pens and pencils and papers,
yes, don’t forget, lists and bills and
sometimes even poems.
 
And bottles. So many bottles. Bottles
of lotions and aspirins and pepsins, bottles
of rage and sorrow and unnurtured hope,
bottles of “don’t you look pretty
today?” Bottles of “it wouldn’t hurt you
to smile.” Bottles of “you know I meant nothing
by that joke, by that insult, by that hand
on your body, by that tongue
in your throat.” Bottles of smirking or leering
or perfunctory gatekeepers
in white coats, in black robes, in three-
piece suits. Bottles of “you aren’t
a mother, so you don’t understand.”
Bottles of “children will ruin your
career.” Bottles of “you must have children
whether you want them or not, whether
they will kill you or not.” Bottles
of “you have to stay with him.”
Bottles of “why do you stay
with him?” Bottles of “but how can you
live without a man?” Bottles of “God
would want you to do
what this or that man says
God wants you to do.” Bottles of
“don’t wear those pants.” Bottles
of “don’t wear that skirt.” Bottles
of “good girls don’t wear make-up.”
Bottles of “why don’t you wear
a little make-up?” Bottles
of “sorry, you aren’t qualified.”
Bottles of “listen, let me
explain it…” Bottles of “don’t play
the victim,” bottles of “don’t
be so sensitive,” bottles
of “don’t be an ice queen,”
bottles of “you’re such a bitch.”
 
Bottles of “don’t walk alone
after dark.” Bottles of “carry
your keys like a weapon.” 
Bottles of “count yourself lucky
to reach old age without
fist-shaped bruises on your skin or
razor cuts to your spirit, without
a hole like a wound in the earth, your mother,
dug neatly, just for you.”
 
Yes, the purses we carry are heavy.
Nevertheless, we carry them.
Nevertheless, we keep standing in line.
Nevertheless, we keep standing.
It's a Man's World

No one teaches us what stories go unspoken inside us
every time we hear phrases like equal pay,
victim’s rights, my body my choice,
each rock a hard-fought year tossed atop the last, each ladder
rung threatening to buckle underneath
the weight of so many shouted or silent No’s,
hands touching what they shouldn’t, slick tongues
echoing old men’s lies, as if there
lies within falsehood a truth true only for those born with parts
essential for the living of it. The rest of us
sit in gossamer cages, pretending these invisible bars aren’t
strong as our gullets, holding down what we’re forced to

swallow. Mule and minister, angel and whore, we are everything but
human, so say the judges, so say preacher and priest and politician,
expert at argument meant to
 
penetrate the mad hearts of old-style patriots suspicious of
education and anything complex enough to
render them enlightened or feeling the least bit guilty,
since what we were taught to trust can’t possibly
inflict harm, can it? Don’t worry, they tell us, you must
stay busy. You haven’t the time
to vote, or speak, or lead. It is the
eyes of the children that gaze on the future. There lies your
devotion. The future. There. Our devotion. Lies—

Jo Angela Edwins has published poems in various venues, recently or forthcoming in Schuylkill Valley JournalLEON Literary ReviewCapsule Stories, and Rabid Oak. Her chapbook Play was published in 2016. She has received awards from Winning Writers, Poetry Super Highway, and the SC Academy of Authors and is a Pushcart Prize, Forward Prize, and Bettering American Poetry nominee. Edwins teaches English at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, where she serves as Poet Laureate of the Pee Dee region of the state.

Guest Editor Latorial Faison is the author of Mother to Son, the trilogy collection, 28 Days of Poetry Celebrating Black History, The Missed Education of the Negro, and other titles. This Furious Flower Poetry Center fellow, Pushcart nominee, and Tom Howard Poetry Prize winner has been published in Artemis Journal, West Trestle Review, Obsidian: Literature and Art in the African Diaspora, PRAIRIE SCHOONER, and elsewhere. Forthcoming work, Mama Was a Negro Spiritual, was a semi-finalist for The CAVE CANEM POETRY PRIZE. Faison is married, has three sons, and teaches at Virginia State University.

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