Us Old Eskimo Women

by marthastephens



I SEND GREETINGS to my friends on Planet Earth!  Holidays can be hectic, but I bet you’re rested now.  May you prosper and be healthy in the year to come — and know many beautiful things! 

I don’t know why, but today I took out of my cache of Earth books a handy little paperback called Immortal Poems of the English Language.  I leaned back on a fuzzy cloud — not to be confused with an i-cloud, no — and perused the light, brilliant poems of the 17th century.  Much as I liked re-reading this verse, yet I felt a familiar disturbance of the emotions, too.  It would seem to a stranger coming upon these works that all the poets of the day were men — young men and old men, brainy men, funny men, ingenuous men.

No women.  

In that society, women who were young and good-looking served a certain purpose in the world of poesy: they were not the acknowledged authors of poems but they might well become the subjects of them, and as far as one can tell from the body of verse in question, they had no other reason to be alive but to receive the romantic attentions of men.

Old women though — what of them?  Were they at a certain age led out onto the English fens, rather like Eskimos, and left to perish in the wet and cold?

Let’s imagine for a moment that things haven’t changed much for women since the seventeenth century (and I’m not always sure they have).  Let’s assume that I’m an elderly little person who lives alone in a small house in the country, and that one night a male person I don’t know comes to my door.  In his arms he has a basket of foodstuffs and an old woolen blanket, and he says to me, It’s time . . . .

Let’s say I’m not terribly surprised.  Nobody is writing a poem about me this night?  I inquire.

Not a living soul, he replies, with a little petulance.  Not this night nor any other night . . . not for some years, as you well know.

Oh!  I say, with a sharp catch of my breath, but let me just finish this little verse on my desk.  

What verse? he says, and I know he is thinking, This old girl . . . I say! . . . thinks she can write a poem.  Her mind has left her and it’s just as well.

He allows me to get my coat, and I follow him to the door.  I know it’s no use to complain — the world is as it is.  But my hand is in the pocket of my coat; it’s holding tight to a pencil in there and to my little verse, my poem. 

When the door is opened, I see out into the darkness.  I am afraid.  But I feel my thin slip of a poem in my coat.  There will be just enough time, I believe, to finish it.  ##