Vashti Poems By Carol Barrett

Carol Barrett directs the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University, which is devoted to social justice at all levels of instruction. Her poems have appeared in JAMA, The Women's Review of Books, Poetry International, Nimrod, and many other venues, including over forty anthologies.





Vashti Bids Farewell to the Harem


You know his nakedness

as well as I. Cherish the day

a fettered concubine said No!

and grieve not for your Queen.

We have had our time, our place.

We have kept him little from his.


You’d think they prefer a woman

on her own terms, and willing!

But no, the Queen is to pose

in her keter, while they loll

in their brew, dreaming a slick

thrust inside the royal passage.

No more! Such fate I’m handed

I’ll relish, remembering you.


We reveled in the common bread,

the lace of laughter. Toast

each veiled dancer refusing

the coin of torment.

Your Queen abandons you not,

honors you above a drunk.


I go to the end of my calling;

go to yours. What history makes

of us cannot be wholly stilled.

His royal soup has simmered down

and now the verdict’s clear:

one maid to tend me till I die,

removed from all the marble meddling.

He’s shrewd to keep this punishment

alive for all the wives.


I’ve picked you, facile Fatahmah,

from all the hands that lend me

grace, for agile ears to capture

innuendos of the court.

So bring me all you can of that

invisible provision, the steady talk

in women’s rooms, that I may know

its fatted end ahead of Ahasuerus,

and warm my silk-robbed breast

upon the story I have started.



Vashti Salutes Pope Joan


Not all loaves are blessed.

In the Rhine, a hallucinogenic fungus

devours the grain, bakes into bread.

You pray for the masses,

the poison of hysteria.


Hail sister of the crown!

Honored one, urn of living water.

(Briefly – a delicate matter

for history’s indelicate

conscience.) Disappeared:

the verb of patriarchy.

They flatten our stories,

press them into wine.

Not all wine is blessed.


It was the year 855.

What scribes record of the time:

the invention of algebra,

of coffee, the first print book,

The Diamond Sutra.


But do they remember Vashti (they have had twelve hundred years)

or the first wavy tresses

beneath the papal crown?

What daring made them

yank you by the hair,

marked the demise of all

but a wind-born legend?

Another one of us erased.


A woman once governed state

and soul. She vanished.

Who will write the next

resurrection story?



Vashti Preaches to Jessica Hahn


We could talk miracles.

Or how a man loves to love

your body – its heavenly

mountains, its small stream

in the moss –

lays you under

his idea of God.


Gene. John. Jim.

Disciples of Judas

pander in betrayal:

hustling the cross,

unbuckling

in the vestibule,

hoisting mast

up holy cove.

Small wonder Hugh Heffner

seemed a clean

catch.


Men have been leaving

and coming

to your private well

since birth, their mouths

full of miracles.

In their hands, an offering

of fur, lotion,

sand, film.


In the house of lies

are many thieves.

There is only one

danger, one small celestial

fire: it is need.



Vashti, Dressed as a Laundress, Preps Anita Hill


This not bout you’n him. This bout us’n them.

We alway outnumbered, they see to that.

This bout a black girl an the master’s

bedroom/boardroom. This bout suits an ties

put on smug after a night on the town. This bout

the boys’ club, they pretendin to take on a black dude

so’s a good woman can’t put a man down.

This not bout you, honey. This bout how smart

they looks. This ain’t bout no truth we knows.

They gots to snug up them ties an ask you things.

They bein observed, honey. You hear?


They gonna shove that mike on the table,

you sittin there all by yo’self, they gonna say

was it this big? They gots to have it done you ‘gain.

No woman gonna say no to a man.

They gots to know how a girl like you

get herself in such a fix. Where you been

all this time? Wanna know where you messed up,

how that coke be tastin’, the one with the

pubic hair. They gots to know how you like

ol’ Long Dong Silver. They gonna watch you,

sweetheart. They gonna watch you real good.


They gonna ask how come you wid dis man?

How come you di’nt just up an leave

when he bein so bad? How come you git in his car,

whad’ya expect, baby? They gonna wanna know

bout them big breasts he be talkin bout.

How big, bigger ‘n yers?

What kinda dogs those women layin wid?

They dark like you?

You gots to have a strong stomach

fer this kinda thing. They ask you ‘bout that,

how come you ain’t got a stronger stomach, girl?

Lookit you. Out in the world. You wanna play

wid dem, you gots to have a stronger stomach.

They snug up them ties ’gain like they’s

pullin’ on it. They adjustin their selves.

They wantin their turn.


Go on. Jes tell the truth.

Don’t matter who believe.

The whole truth. You cn do it.

No question. No question.



Vashti Interviews Nadia Comaneci


I know what it is, Nadia, the years of drill. Those wizards

of motion, thigh, of chin, they coached me too, kept you

from school chums, your body tumbling through Romanian winters

gripping the thin air. So long between events, mats under our feet.

How did you manage the waiting? I held to the discipline

of pride: mine, the title. I hold to it still, though

the throne seats someone new.


We are known for our gold. Crown and torch inspire

the clapping tongues. Young girls imitate the flip of wrists,

how our hips tuck in the balance. Their hopes hang

like posters above their beds. The older ones watch for a mistake,

some wanton curve of will. And the judges – oh the judges,

spilling their ruby lots into the sand.

Fame lasts. Not fortune. Pity.


Tell me, sister fallen Queen, in all those aerial splits and spins,

was there one moment of freedom? After the eunuchs pushed

and pried your lithe body, sweat coaxed like oil over your back,

lean hard breasts, knees like apples bobbing on the brisk

waters of success, were you ever free of this sultry earth, flags

and babushkas impatient with suspense, the throngs

perched on that moment you land the last glorious leap,

slip back into the ordinary, walk on your two prize legs,

exactly as they do? And when did they first throw your slight

fierce heart to the emperor’s bed?


In a Florida apartment, you smooth on Jergen’s, nails shiny

as summer cherries you couldn’t get in the old country, take up

a silver spoon and play with your Haagen-Dazs. Your manager

pimp lover eyes us from the livingroom. Sand from his toes

falls to the glass table top. Time’s up.


As I leave you open a pack of Luckies, put one stiffly between

your teeth, and bite. Your tongue pokes the crushed leaves.

You spit, tossing that regal head. This bitterness, as close

as you come to freedom, the years of deposition

growing on you like gravity.


Inhaling the last breath between us, you think about that air-borne

question, what your body craves in its fur coat of dreams:

that split-second with the sky rushing between your legs,

no pull anywhere … but that ephemeral

glory lost on us both.


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