Creating Women: Roses on the Kitchen Table, a Senior Thesis

 

Maria Louise Capecchi '04

"Do something every day that scares you."  This quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt hung beside my computer for six months as I wrote my honors thesis.  Roses on the Kitchen Table was my attempt to follow that principle.  A thesis is the conscious effort to do what most run from: a thirty-page year-long paper.  I took Roosevelt's quotation to heart, attempting to write not just poetry but also character-based monologues from the perspectives of women I had created.  Additionally, Roosevelt's words prompted me to choose taboo themes I was not sure I could even write about. 

It has been six months since I photocopied and bound my thesis, setting it carefully on my bookshelf.  In these six months I have gained some distance and perspective.  I no longer have six women's stories running through my head.  I no longer think of Africa as if I've been there or hear my actors speaking my lines in my head.  Some amazing events came out of the six months I spent writing and then directing the results.  I met Anne Carson.  I learned I could spend two hours each day writing (and enjoy it).  Most importantly, I discovered a peer group who took my poems to heart.  I had created something I was proud of because my peers found their voices in it.

With my peers, I continually revised and reviewed my thesis.  I held readings in my living room where my friends, surrounded by cups of tea, coffee, cookies, and muffins, would read the poems aloud.  I changed line breaks; we questioned word choice.  The poems became true voices as we discussed the women as living people.  My friends took me seriously as a writer, and for the first time I began to think of myself as a poet, not only as someone who enjoyed writing poetry. 

One of the greatest compliments I have received came to me shortly after a performance of my work.  One of its actors and a fellow English/theater major told me: "It's the words.  You gave us such good words."  That for me was the ideal I had been striving towards in all those months of writing and revision.  I had created a truly feminist compilation: a collection of poems full of strong women, and a group of women behind the scenes, women helping other women. 

The following poem, "Judith," is the most direct poem of my compilation.  It also resonated the strongest with my peers.

                                                                                 Judith

Sophie

This summer

while walking past the Egyptian artifacts

at the MPLS Institute of Art

my best friend told me

she was raped

at a party when I was there

she didn't cry

We stared at crumbling gods,

glass cases keeping away decay

 

The horror crept up behind us

Judith

it's the shame the fear of admitting that yes we do have a problem that college students with emblazoned sweatshirts grandmothers on social security and grade-schoolers in jumpers all must silently face silently bear but its not even the silence it's the lack of anything no one's even holding their breath 1 in 4 or is it now 1 in 3 women daily hide what made them who they are in closets behind jewelry boxes red and purple nail polish black first date heels q-tips winter scarves and camera equipment still nothing ever fits

Sophie

Silence followed us around Medieval

miniatures where two women whisper

in the corner next to a gold leafed Ugolino Lorenzetti crucifixion.

A secret club for two.

 

To reach out comfort across

the empty air touch and recognize

her invisible chest wound. 

Judith

in this memory lapse called silence we're told it's not about sex it's about power about needing control about women who have no control who have forgotten how to be empowered with society pressures to ignore reality so survivors daily become victims of articles in Cosmopolitan that advise 5 easy ways to avoid rape 15 brand-new ways to meet a guy and how to find your g-spot now! in isolation we forget that our tax attorney and our little sister are also victims that we all cause this (my) repression this (my) memory lapse this (my) silence still believe if we ignore the problem it'll go away 

 

Sophie

Later Judith told me safe

in coffee shop noise,

smoothing froth back into her latte

it was her imagination,

her decision, her choice

to remain silent.  Her pain

redistributed.  Another

breath lost in steam

and smoke.  Someone had to hear.

 

Judith

now the question is why am I lying as I slowly lose touch I pull fake memories from women, paying a hundred dollars on the hour to find the problem to create a cure I buy bulky sweaters-distance so as not to feel the woman next to me on the bus the cold air softly touching the back of my neck cocooned away filling silence with noise of blenders radio television ads my heeled shoes on the pavement-I can't stand silence

Sophie

After the silence boiled

awhile inside

like sugar water thickened, clear.

Nothing seemed quite right

her anger boiled over

sticky remnants attached

to her wound

 

The fallout was heard

Judith

Women like toasters and telephones that die in two years abandoned to dump heaps left in the gutter like Styrofoam cups with remnants of coffee slightly worn jeans discarded for younger thinner "distressed" or "dirty jean" styles purple dress shoes put-out or collected dust after three dates super-moms trapped in pinstripe suits they rush to reach the next Important Landmark doing everything they sit isolated in cubicles rendered obsolete

 

Sophie

We found ourselves walking

leaves throwing dying brilliance

into the crisp air-

Her silence spoke.

 

One year later still

nothing fits.

Judith

they point to the mini-skirt as evidence ignore grown men with molestation flashbacks and send pedophiles back to the community while women are captured on vacation eighth graders are taught respect for their bodies but shown rap hoes naked JLo selling perfume and lust red teen magazines with makeup tips for sex appeal establishing low self esteem to begin the cycle again

I begin the cycle again with my silent, vacant eyes while my film class discusses the possibility of rapists being good fathers willing myself elsewhere I lie-there is no other to my existence-living between streetlamp shadows smile pinned to pale face alone in silence baking chocolate oatmeal cookies sent to friends instead of friendship

 

Sophie

The snow grips patches

of brown grass, flying

sadly around us.

 

A slight glaze of frost

on our breath-

 

hesitant words

bridging our friendship.

 

Pain redistributed