The Call

70992-DFP Anthology Women Write CoverPagePPage_1.artlos-angeles-book-festivalSFBF.digitalstickerHM.2015


In the dedication to The Call: An Anthology of Women’s Writing, writer and reader are met with a passionate plea to honor the memory of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old who died while laboring in the fields, picking the grapes the privileged would taste chatting at galas. When she was delivered to the hospital, the true cause of her death, overexertion, was concealed.

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez represents the countless marginalized women in our world, women who even in the 21st century, a time when it seems humankind must have progressed further beyond its animal origins, are still suffocated by the greed and power of patriarchy. When one woman’s life is devalued, all women’s lives are devalued, and the poems and short stories in The Call give voice to women who are compelled to establish identity with humor, pain, regret, and sensuality through the word.

In “Saving Myself,” a poem by Lara Gularte, the speaker seems to be in danger of being obliterated by strong forces, in the poem represented by a river’s current. What begins as a soothing, almost dreamlike experience of the water and in particular the river stones, personified as the speaker’s ancestors, in the second stanza becomes DANGEROUS. As the speaker moves through the water, she loses her footing and “fall[s] into the cold stream.” Submerged, the speaker appears for a moment to be drowning, figuratively to be drowning in her history as she attempts to connect with her ancestors, the stones that “sparkle, / their quartz veins / glisten in the granite.” In stanza four, nature’s spiritual healing powers revive the speaker. Having found the safety of a shallow “mountain pool,” the speaker silently expresses her gratitude for this moment. “I bless my reflection,” reads the final line of the poem, signaling that through the meeting with the past, the self has been made clearer, a self that the speaker sees as an extension of her ancestors. The call of the past nurtures the present.

The adult speaker in Patricia McKeown’s “Spring Recital” recalls a childhood moment in which her identity was forged. As her fourth grade self sings in the school chorus, the gymnasium becomes the backdrop for the speaker’s transformation. While performing in a group, she looks at the exercise apparatus and sees herself in gym class climbing those “rough green ropes that chewed our little girl legs.” The goal of the rope climb is to reach the top, a daunting task for most if not all girls. But more intimidating than the physical demands of the exercise is the humiliation of exposing to the boys below what their skirts covered. The reward for success is not the respect and admiration of the boys, who could easily accomplish the feat, but is instead hearing the “animal noises [the boys made] at your underwear.” The speaker, however, triumphs as she wills herself to the top of the rope and by taking control of her body, she in effect silences the catcalls of the boys; she becomes more human. The speaker “wormed and wrestled past them / too high to believe in coming down / or to think to nudge my twisted skirt down.” The reader and the boys are left with the rich image of the speaker’s power, her “moodstone fire sapphire.”

Jean Emerson’s “Oriental Poppy” is a poem of lyric beauty, of delicate images that gently accumulate to reveal a woman mourning the end of her fertility. The second stanza begins with a four line dependent clause, the rhythmic gerunds building to reveal the “unfolding of damp crinkled petals / the smoothing of fragile orange waiting cups / the milling of purple stamen / round the moss green ovarian capsule.” The opening rhetorical question, “So can this then be the theatre of the dead?” is followed by images that float into the inevitable, the “empty stage / This road dust and silent waiting,” a haunting image of barrenness.

In the anthology’s title poem, “The Call,” by Calder Lowe, the mundane sound of a train whistle transports the speaker back three centuries to the landscape of her ancestors – glass blowers in the Black Forest, kin carrying Lafayette “off the battlefield”, the Von Eberhardt’s glowing furnaces – where fragments of history lead her back to the recent past. Her ancestors’ craft sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails, glass being a difficult medium with which to work. The speaker imagines “Some of the goblets flower, some crack.” The church bells that end stanza one are then heard at the end of the poem where the immediate past is recalled in which a single mother abandons her children, her son left at “an orphanage / tucked behind the spire of a Presbyterian Church,” her creations left behind. The speaker carries her history as part of her identity, and one sound, the whistle of the train, collapses the divisions of time allowing the speaker to connect with the past.

The writers represented in The Call are summoned to memory and respond with a wide palette of voices to bear witness to the lives of extraordinary ordinary women: daughters, granddaughters, mothers, lovers, caretakers, sisters, adolescents who celebrate life.

Caroline Malone teaches composition and literature at South College in Knoxville, TN. She holds an MFA from Bennington College.