Susanna J. Sturgis    

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This is a poem about eyes averted

This is a poem about eyes averted

about the day the metro crashed and three people died
and a Florida-bound jet swept commuters off
the 14th Street Bridge and followed them
into the icy river
and I knew
getting home alive
at the end
of the day
was not routine.

Once in Belfast I waited an hour in a rail station
bombed so often I was alone until just before the train left;
ten days later one pub I passed was rubble.
I guess a woman's raped every week
on one of the routes I often walk:
with eyes averted I have the nerve
to leave my house.

"Don't stare."
We polite children learn to turn away
from a scarred face, palsied hands, a woman's cane.
"Color-blindness" is said to be a virtue.
Tell me it's coincidence:
          suburban roads don't run through ghettos
          the interstates bypass stripmined hills
          the textbooks never mentioned us.
Once I heard a woman say
"No woman I know has been raped"
and two of her friends (there were six in the room)
said "I have."

"What you don't know can't hurt you."
An aching tooth, a lump in the breast, an unwritten poem
can't hurt you?
What you don't know about your own oppression
how you oppress
what you won't see
can't hurt you?

"Let sleeping dogs lie."
This friendship strangled in lies,
that one drowned in too much truth.
In fantasy I favor deserts --
endless horizons where nothing hides
save the deep-grown roots of the survivors;
my home New England rock and winter
strip me down to essence
but I live elsewhere.
Clichés
are sleeping dogs,
words whose roots have died
easy to let lie.

Hiking on the South Downs Way I learned
keep your eyes on the horizon and you'll trip on your feet.
At home I step through the thicket
of what all of us see
but pretend we don't:
who did what     to whom     and where,     even why --
from fiery crashes I turn away and think
how averted eyes
allow our survival
and stunt our growth.

Published in Betty Steinshouer, "Without Approval: The Lesbian Poetry Tradition," in Women-Identified Women, ed. Trudy Darty and Sandee Potter (Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield, 1984).

 

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