Daydream in a Bookstore about Men in This Life
Constance Camille & Judith Roney
-After Sylvia Plath
Finalist of the 2019 Collaboration Contest
and so I have set fire to all the books at Barnes & Noble
where words become ash scattered over an ocean of carpet,
a man’s scream still floats above wave-crests
until flames bang from my eyes,
burst from fingers, and blow out my hair.
I’m speaking directly to dead women here—
the ones who think they’ve died inside, alone on a bench
reading Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, Fear of Flying, and Elle.
I will tell them fire is beautiful, but to me it is pain
barely contained in flames shaped
like the words Father, Uncle, and priest.
Little cups hold a single page leaf, each like aartis.
Lit, they float on rivers flowing past aisles
of Romance, Self-Care, and Marriage.
I watch the word husband sweep away in the current, bobbing
toward bright edges of earth, past reading chairs and shelves,
dodge choreographed ribbons of instructions I failed to follow
while real-husband thinks I’m his doll, dictates, collects tractors and truck
parts, and arranges tryst-holes while I keep dinner warm, waiting
for my anger to surface like bubbles of air.
The biological clock stops, and my body whispers a language
I don’t understand, each word breaking
like twigs in autumn—
the plummed-brown syllables of housewife flicker
like the sound of paper, wet, and heavy with smoke.
Tell me the word husband is more than masculine splendor,
a monster in a mason jar dallying with breathless female strains
like the strings of a fiddle he can’t play.
I’m scaled-down in my apron each morning whisking
lint off his dress-shirts and ties when he tries to swipe words away,
but not here in the bookstore where all words are mine.
Flicked sparks torch a book of dollhouses: Miniature kitchens
where copper pots hang like homemaker trophies, tiny cupboards
of dishes and cups, a bed, quilt, two tiny pillows,
and a rubber-doll husband with a tiny
black suit and black-shoed feet. Tell me I don’t need
stereopticons to see how to live in his dollhouse
where I hold rancor under the tongue
when he hides every emotion like contraband cigars smuggled
past the guard of manly-man’s closed border. I’m a golden-hot
door in his dollhouse unlocked with his pea-sized
key, tossing baskets ablaze at his washer and dryer, tiny dishrack and mop.
I watch him inside the house with the other men melting,
their soot washing away in their Adam’s ale.
I could sit on my life like his porch swing, but this dollhouse is empty.
Each room crackling, its yellow wallpaper singed, the house swells
full-scale, lists on Zillow For Sale, and my body is no longer mortgaged.
The burnt book of small houses is tossed to the sea of books
no longer on fire, flotsam, a damp damn against double doors
at the front of the store holding in this rage of water and vows.
Come, wet lull swollen. Come, estuaries of women,
come like an arsonist of gender and roles.
Leave him like a sopped-book of matches. Duds.
But this store was on fire and sweet sulfur after the strike still lingers
and flame’s ashes stuff the sham of marriage absurdities:
Streams of wedding dresses, matching gold rings,
and tiered cakes topped with plastic bride and groom with flea-sized
mouths painted red. I find my way out, follow feathers of a scarlet-plumed
bird while men pull at their pipes, puff cigars like they mean it,
inhale cherry tobacco, smoke like lovers burning for dolly.
Everybody, it seems, is going or dying, in this cold mean spring.
The men marching as men have always marched—
at wars with the world, with us, and themselves. Home, they are hungry,
full of visions of nipples and nighties.
Always hungry, so hungry, to do it again.
Men think of their work-world and golf course with only men in it,
that women wait in the houses they buy us, clanging pots
and the silverware like a drumroll of honey-you’re-home!
and we love making casseroles, love-making, and vacuums. That folding
towels and pressing our bodies against them makes us feminine
bisque but this river has emptied, and the house has sold.
We women row to an island, where books we are writing open
under the sun. Like red-feathered birds we walk here together,
our plumage flared just for the joy of it.
Sylvia’s there, waving us over. She’s just lit a cigarette.
She looks happy, tugs open the knot
of the paisley silk scarf under her chin.
Currently pursuing her MFA with the University of Central Florida, Constance Camille hangs her hat somewhere in Florida with her two Volpino Italiani. Most recently she has completed a poetry chapbook, “Other Shiny Things,” has a fiction piece in The Write Stuff Anthology, and an essay in Meat for Tea. She is an assistant editor for The Florida Review and the online journal Aquifer.
Judith Roney’s multi-genre writing has appeared in numerous publications, with recent work in The Cimarron Review and Burning House Press. Her poetry collection, According to the Gospel of Haunted Women, received the 2015 Pioneer Prize. She lives on an island with her family, rocket launches, and hurricanes. She is a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Central Florida, and is an assistant poetry editor for The Florida Review.