Handmaid's Confessional

Handmaids-nh gallery.jpg

 

In the Name of the Mothers

and of the Daughters

and of the Holy Feminine

Bless me, Mother Margaret, for I have sinned

It has been more than 30 years since I last read your novel

 

I know I am not worthy of wearing the red cape  

white bonnet  

modesty wings

Those symbols of rarefied fertility

in your fictional dystopia

 

Yet I feel drawn to the movement

The Coalition

 

In my 2017 reality  

I am a handmaid past expiration date

a barren breed sow

body parts tumored

then excised

 

like Jeannine’s eye

on the Hulu show

I’m not whole

I’m fragmented, shattered

 

So Why am I posing as a Handmaiden?

 

To draw attention

To the enduring objectification

trivialization, infantilizing

Rape culture and erosion of rights

 

This isn’t fake news, folks

And we’re not faux feminists

It’s because of the new skirmishes

in the old war on women

 

No, that’s not exactly true…

In my case it’s because

Handmaids don’t have to talk

I’m having trouble with word retrieval

And sentence construction

Theirs is a silent, nonviolent resistance

And frankly, Mother Margaret,

 

This resistance is bookish,

It’s a literary reference and like

The old me

A little pretentious

I mean

First there’s the bastardized Latin

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”

Don’t let the bastards grind you down

 

Then there’s the symbolism

English teachers love our symbols

And this one is blood red

And scary

As it should be

 

Like my left breast

A veritable Frankenboob

Opening my robe for

a plastic surgeon

after the first two

surgeries failed

to rid me of cancer

He frowned and said

“What a mess!”

 

then turned to the healthy side

the flabby, drooping, utilitarian

but healthy side

and winced

and said, “I can fix that, too.”

 

And it took me a minute

An uncomfortable minute under

his insinuating, insulting, judging

Miss America

numbers assigning to women’s body parts

gaze

Before I found my voice

I hardly remember the philippic

(I like that word philippic

because it is a word that sounds

just like the gesture

I’d like to be giving-

Fill-ipp-ic-ing off- while I’m saying it)

That became a barbaric YAWP

 

But two lines, Mother Margaret,

two lines of my speech

 

I can recall

 

Before my gentle, genteel husband

began to referee

under those fluorescent lights

 

“Perfection, sir, is overrated!”

and

 

“I came here for a cancer consult,

not a Playboy spread”

 

I did not opt to reconstruct,

although I learned

after research

Many women fought for the right

to reimbursement

to make their bodies whole again

 

But my body doesn’t make me whole

It is my mind, my will,

my voice, my agency

That make me whole

 

And Mother Margaret,

A woman who loses her bodily autonomy

to the fetus she carries

is a vessel, a vassal and not a full

equal and independent

agent under the law

 

Ask the family of Marlise Munoz

of Texas about that and know the

Republic of Gilead probably

Started with a lone-star

 

And yet the objectification

of women’s bodies

for men’s pleasure is real,

accepted and unquestioned

 

And not just in the south is it unhealthy

And pervasive

 

Let me quote an elected New Hampshire

official, “…feminists wish they were

hot enough to be rape-able.” This

On his men’s rights Red Pill site

 

And after dressing as a handmaiden,

Men on the house floor pointing, laughing,

At the silent, red bonneted sentries

In the gallery

later posting with

small hands and smaller minds

“Ridiculous!”

 

Yes, well…

 

And one week before

 

Not even one week! former students

And I met for lunch

Talked about novels, TV shows

Henrietta Lacks,

Sikhs and Hindus…

two hours passed quickly before

another patron in the greasy joint

inserted, uninvited his opinions

 

“You girls sure have a lot to talk about”

And we all laughed, because we did!

 

And then the man looked at me

And read my T-shirt,

My University of Notre Dame T-shirt

 

That I had chosen in

pride and solidarity because

Some graduates the day before

Half way across the country

had walked out in dissent

silently and respectfully

on Mike Pence

who calls his wife “mother”

and hates homosexuals

 

the way I thought I did before

I attended Notre Dame

And learned there to love Others

Not just Samers.

 

and so the guy looks at my T-shirt

Asks lifting his chin,

“Did you go to Notre Dame?”

 

And I answer with a polite smile, “Yes sir!”

 

And he sneers “No, I mean, not just stop

There to use the bathroom. I was asking

If you actually went to school there.”

and laughs to himself at his insult

As he turns to walk away.

 

“Class of 88” I say

as I get in the car

shaking

wondering what could prompt

such a slight from a stranger

 

But he sends me traveling back in time

To that storied campus

where Father Miceli

told the women in Theology 101

they didn’t belong at Notre Dame

that they could have a “free” B

if they’d agree simply

to stop coming to class

so the patriarchy could pretend

they, the

women, didn’t exist.

 

Except for the one acceptable

Woman, the Virgin Mary, Our Lady

Notre Dame

 

The place, the church, was terrific

at giving only two

Options for womanhood

A mother/whore binary

 

And It has taken me fifty years

of ham-fisted heartbreak

to begin to understand

how insufficient

The binary is to define

the complexity of the

human experience

 

And to understand how few people

Can appreciate the rich nuances

Between zero and one

Between black and white

Between insider and outsider

Between male and female

 

Why am I a handmaid?

 

Privilege. Plain and simple.

I have not been ground down

By those bastards

 

I have love despite being of

no sexual consequence

 

I have an education so now

Commit my life to providing

equal access to learning

 

and I have a body, mind, voice

to use in nonviolent

symbolic protest

 

thus, it is  

penance

for my privilege

Handmaid's Confessional

 Beth Haverkamp Powers