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 Journal, LEON Literary Review, Capsule 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.