Three Poems by Nikki Wallschlaeger
Letter to a Young White Feminist
Look, I’m going to be straight with you. Our mothers and grandmas, mamas and mommies, had to put up with a lot of half-baked theories on what it means to be a woman. And you’re angry, too. That’s fine. We all are. But you’re not the first generation to be angry that the world doesn’t rise and set with your list of modern demands. Take it from me–I worked for your mothers. I helped raise their families. Nine times out of ten yall just sat there, being waited on, and after decades of activism we’re supposed to embrace our shared femininity, without question, on the grounds that you are the prototype of womanhood? You talk about ‘white men’ as if they weren’t yr fathers, brothers, sons, and rulers of the land. From which you benefit from their love and lawful protection, even if some of them you wouldn’t trust to fry an egg. You’re angry at yr fathers. That’s justified. My great-grandpa was murdered by one of yr fathers when my grandpa was a little boy. Then he grew up and had my father, who didn’t know how to be one. Intergenerational trauma nests for generations to come. It’s deliberate, slow to shake, and tangled as an old-growth forest. You pick up one razed thread and it leads you to the mists of homeland. You pick up another and it leads you right back to the premier abomination of the Western world, where women of all backgrounds are contained as prime real estate for nation building and maintenance. Some more than others, of course. I didn’t ask to be here. Neither did you, I suppose– but you’re here, and I’m still here, and you have a lot to learn.
A Black Feminist whose name you can’t
She dug her gloves into me like a pumpkin on Halloween, verifying my insides. NO, this is bringing me NO relief, prepped and swept by a white Midwestern nurse. What the hell was she doing, never movin her eyes from mine. The ceiling had a faded poster on it that was supposed to help me relax. Flowered nurses scrubs, dominant color: cornflower. She wore modest wire frames. Dark shoulder length hair. On university grounds, the Black male professor who bragged about having a PHD in psychology singled me out as a ripe student. I, as a young Black girl, was there to confirm myself. Handled wrong on most occasions, I buried it. Smiled and took it. The polite labor of tuition. If I can just make it through the semester and find another doctor. On a budget, so the only therapy I could afford was a white graduate student who remarked if she said anything racially insensitive I make it known. Stuffing, prying, examining. Holding my thighs up to the fluorescent lights. “Everything looks normal,” she said. “You got the best grade in class,” he said, when he called my house to tell me.
You make me feel like I’ve never touched anyone,
empty shed without music. Additional ingredients
for comparison: I love migrating feet because it’s
real, to add sugar to a wound, the apple trees are
blossoming. Biographies thicken with natal down,
ordinary freedoms read and reshelved. Instructed
distractedly on most occasions, what’s a mammal
to do except apply for state dehabituation benefits.
The state, however, frowns on people taking their
brains into their own hands unless they get a cut
out of industrial meatspace readied for recession.
In the ruins of truck stops, bleached skulls whistle
where hells bells and prairie smoke dare to tread.
I’d rather not stop here, but I gotta use a restroom.
About the Author:
Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured in The Nation, Brick, American Poetry Review, Witness, Kenyon Review, POETRY, and others. She is the author of the full-length collections Houses (Horseless Press, 2015) and Crawlspace (Bloof, 2017) as well as the graphic book I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel (2019) from Bloof Books. She is also the author of an artist book called “Operation USA” through the Baltimore based book arts group Container, a project acquired by Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. Her third collection, Waterbaby, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2021.