Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, Edited by Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge
With COVID blocking every single reading from the anthology tour in 2020, we are hosting a feature page to bring readers samples from the book, with writings that related to the theme ‘DOORS’. You can find more about the book at the book’s page at Cyren Press.
We hope you enjoy!
Little Amber Windows
Welcome to my palace, hermosa.
Fernanda stood barefoot in her fuchsia skirt and embroidered huipil.
The wait on the street had felt like an eternity. To stay patient I gazed at her pine wood door. Its grain drew long, wild flames sprinkled with resin pockets, like little amber windows. Fernanda had chosen this particular plank, she had told me, to draw in the light. I tried to peek in, imagining what the other side held.
But I knew that.
There she was, resting one hand on the handle and extending the other to my cheek. I took a step back.
She brought her hand down, and her smile too. I stepped in.
Her house was tiny. First there was a kitchen with a pine table, two chairs and a small couch. Beautifully carved shelves organized pots, plates, wood-working tools. A door opened to the bedroom; behind that was a patio. Each room had a large window—one towards the street, the other towards the little courtyard. She shared her house with marigolds, roses, begonias, lilies—all yellow. In pots, on tables, on shelves, on the floor. It was as if Fernanda had gone to the nursery and carried back the sun in planters.
She closed the door, and the sap pockets on the wood brought in a glow from outside. The tiny windows sweetened the place like honey sprinkled on the kitchen floor. On her feet.
Make yourself at home.
I kicked my sandals off, and pushed her behind the window casing. Our breasts, our bellies, our hips met. Our thighs, our feet. My hands traveled up and down her back, in a hurry to enjoy her beauty.
We kissed, and I tasted the salt of the ocean, just like the first time. Her lips curled into a smile. Mine too. We had so many reasons to smile.
I thought you were mad at me, she said.
Of course not, silly. I was just worried someone would see us.
Eventually they will, Mariana.
I sighed. She turned, and took an ironwood jar from the table.
This is for you.
It was dark, heavy, polished, beautifully carved. On it swam Sea Turtle between the waves. On the sands the pink conch brought messages to and from loved ones. I turned it—Turtle swam and swam as if time did not exist. I looked up at Fernanda, my eyes stinging.
She offered me the “tour of the manor.” We sat in folding chairs in the little patio next to the well, under the laundry billowing on the line. She smoked among the profusion of plants.
In her bedroom she showed me the walls of books above her bed. She had built the shelves out of thick Parota wood, carved with more sea turtles—her companion.
Leatherback and Hawksbill swim toward each other, she said. They will meet soon.
I turned to her. I took the strap of her huipil, pulled it off her shoulder, careful not to graze the skin. I leaned toward her throat. I kissed the quivering hollow, the tip of my tongue stroking her sweet skin. Fernanda held onto me as if afraid of falling. She leaned her head back, shivering in my arms. Her hair hung low on her hips, caressing my hands as I held her by the waist.
I pushed back and drew a deep breath. I gazed into her eyes. I placed a knee on the bed, and brought my love down with me.
An hour later we lay in each other’s arms. We had loved each other, safe in her little home. The closer I got to Fernanda the stronger I felt. But a little distance between us; the gaze of others; everything increased my misgivings. Fernanda insisted we go out, sell her carvings, play music together. But I knew my people did not forgive. I closed my eyes, buried my face in her hair.
Look, she said.
The dusk’s lights peeked through the pine door’s little amber windows. You could almost see them move on the floor as the sun turned. They reached, they climbed Fernanda’s bed.
Stepping into Beauty’s Revolving Door
My father was convinced that every man wanted my mother so he watched over her jealously. His fears were not unfounded. Once at a Kmart, when she was pushing my baby brother in the cart and we sisters were trailing behind her like ducks on a string, a young marine, probably no older than eighteen or nineteen, touched her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I just had to tell you that I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” I was probably around nine and this was the most impressive thing I had seen. “Look at your mother, girls,” Dad would say to us, gazing up at her with hungry eyes while she’d fill our plates at dinner. “Isn’t she beautiful?”And she was. But she didn’t wake up that way. We knew her secret: the orange tackle box. For the better part of the day that she spent vacuuming floors, dusting cabinets, and folding laundry, she was downright plain—thick, red hair gathered into a tight bun like a knob on the top of her head, small eyes fading into a pale and freckled face. But an hour before Dad came home, Mom would stop whatever household chore she was attending to and head up to her bathroom where, under the cabinet, she stored a fisherman’s tackle box. The contents of that tacklebox were magic, invoking into being the beauty queen hiding inside my mother. Where men might separate lures, lines, and hooks into each compartment, Mom had neatly arranged row after row of eye shadows, mascaras, and lipsticks. I’d lean against the doorframe of her bathroom and watch as she’d “put on her face.” First there was the pale, almost white concealer she’d dab under her eyes, then the liquid foundation she’d swirl across her cheeks, forehead, and chin. Next, powder and a sweep of pink blush. She’d lean into the mirror, carefully swipe blue eye shadow across each eyelid, step back, examine her work, lean in again to fill in creases. Next the eyelash curler, a stroke of eyeliner, a flourish of mascara. She’d brush out her eyebrows and pencil them in so her dark, almond-shaped eyes slowly emerged as if coaxed.
But the most magical part of the tackle box was the assortment of lipstick tubes piled in two or three of the compartments and organized by shade. All shades of red, they touted names like “Cherry Lush,” “Ruby Dream,” “Scarlett Empress,” “Femme Fatale.” I loved running my fingers over the smooth tubes, removing their caps, rolling up colors so deep and rich my mouth watered. First she’d line her lips, drawing in a fuller pout on bottom, a cupid’s bow on top. Then she’d choose a lipstick and drag it slowly across, back and forth, press her lips together, and repeat. Again, she’d step back from the mirror, survey her reflection, dissatisfied, rummage through the tackle box for something to right it. Lean in again, fix the mistakes. With each sweep, stroke, and blot, ho-hum servant girl slowly transformed into Cinderella. What I wanted more than anything was to look like her when I grew up.
That she could transform herself so completely gave me hope every time I looked in the mirror at my own plain-Jane face and straight-as-a-board body (“You’re a pirate’s dream,” my dad joked. “A buried chest”). Still, I assured my friends that the story of the Ugly Duckling was my own. My mother was proof; of course I’d inherited her genes. Plus all five of my dad’s sisters were beautiful and his own mom was so gorgeous she’d been married six times. How could it turn out otherwise for me? Friends of my parents concurred when they’d come over for dinner and I’d skip downstairs on break from playing dress-up, my adolescent face inexpertly plastered with lipstick and eye shadow. “You’re in trouble,” the men would elbow my dad and wink, “Get your gun ready.” I’d blush, pleased.
Once, I held your bones within mine,
grew you as I grew as I bloomed with your
life inside me, golden limbs burst
within, your kicks keen reminders,
not that I could forget.
I waited for you like
a lover counting eyelashes.
You arrived one spring afternoon,
lark song lazy outside my window,
the chorus oblivious to my screams as you
scrambled into the world.
I wanted the world to be yellow,
wanted to feel the bond promised in books,
but all I could see was the blue of your eyes,
black puzzle of your hair and pain,
pain when I realized—
I didn’t know who you were.
There were days when I wondered if I’d been
handed the wrong child, a tiny dictator
with cashew feet and starfish fingers,
beautiful angry bones a mystery to me.
You cried enough to fill drought-destroyed rivers.
I loved you fierce
and wanted you gone. On certain dark nights
when my mind threatened to break like glass, I
sobbed as I thanked a god I didn’t believe in
for placing us in a ground-floor apartment.
But I studied you close as poets study the beauty
of stars. Each finger and toe that I kissed turned
familiar under my lips; I came to know each pore
as if it were my own. The petals of your skin
became a joy that scoured away raw pain,
and as your tears turned, as a starless night became day,
I learned how to love the bones of you.
M J Iuppa
first published in Gulf Stream, and later collected into a chapbook of prose called Between Worlds (Foothills Publishing, 2013)
Submerged in an above-ground swimming pool. The water is perfection– chemically balanced, a clever blue– ear to the world ignored. I hear everything: the swallows rev and swoop inches above its surface, the Kreepy-Krawly’s lub-dub scrub along its smooth lining; heartbeat echoing in my ears. I float motionless in the center. Eyes closed. A single thought imagines the threshold between worlds depends upon water. One’s being seemingly spills into being everything; and, in an instant, spills over.
La mer, the sea. blue. Ma mere, my mother. pink. Two inscrutable bodies. As a child I confused the colors, calling pink blue. My mother, the sea. Now I’ve become both. In their vastness, I’ve known possibility. In the swimming pool, I’m defiant of gravity. When I rise out of water, my body lifts refreshed, withstanding. I’m not my age. A puddle collects around my feet.
Begin again. This time a scene that’s memory. A young woman, with brown eyes, brown curls, wearing baggy corduroys comes to the doctor’s office certain she’s pregnant. Her three-year-old hides behind her slimness. She smells of patchouli and tobacco. I ask her 100 invasive questions. She answers in few words. Mostly yes and no. This record is private. I tell her she can’t clean the cat litter box; she can’t smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine. These are the doctor’s orders. She nods her head and takes her fistful of papers home. I tell her to call if she has any questions, any questions at all.
Three days later, she’s waiting at the front desk with a small plastic container that once kept margarine, with its name Promise on the lid. I smile at her and she smiles back, sheepishly handing the little tub to me. She follows me back to the lab, where I routinely dipstick urine for albumin and sugar. I set the tub on the counter and pry the lid off gently, not wanting to spill her specimen. She watches me tentatively.
Not urine, but a fetus no bigger than the pad of my thumb, a translucent cameo nestled on a bed of cotton balls. Small hand crossed over mouth, body tucked in the shape of C, eye buds, nose– all the fine details made by 12 weeks– she asks me if the doctor can keep it alive. I hear water in her words rushing to care for what spontaneously spilled from her– fetus, salt water, roar of the sea.
Begin again. My mother sleeps in a fetal position, floating between worlds. All the windows open. No wind tonight. The sound of waves rubbing small stones together. Her breath uneven. I touch her cool skin and feel water beneath my fingertips.
Looking up through the ceiling of water, I see a dome of sky glowing incandescent pink. I push to break through its glittering surface, gasping at first breath, then the next. My vision blurs in the sting of water– sound spills everywhere at once.