for the Women of the 19th Amendment
Praise their grit and gospel, their glistening
brains, their minds on fire. Neurons, numbering the stars.
Praise their bones. Their spines and skulls,
the axis, the atlas: I will not and I shall.
Their mouths, praise. Ridged palates
and smart muscular tongues, teeth, sound or pitted,
their wit and will. Their nerve,
and founded within the body. Honor
now their wombs and hearts, biceps and blood,
deep mines of the flesh where passion is tested.
Thank all twenty-six bones of their feet,
arches, heels, bunions, sweat,
marching the streets in high buttoned boots. Praise
the march. Praise justice.
Though slow and clotted.
Their hands at the press. The grease and clatter,
the smell of ink. Feel the sound
of their names in our mouths:
Susan B. Anthony
Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee
Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett
Praise their eyelids that close
and give rest
at the end of each long day.
Praise the work that goes on.
Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
In late middle English
a series of petitions.
Not the right—but the hope.
applicable to all cases—
except those marginalized
A belief, but not a fact.
In the trombone slide of history
I hear the suffer in suffragette
the uni uni uni in universal—
each excluded ikwe: women
from five hundred tribal nations
mindimooyenh or matriarchs
of ancient flourishing cultures
still disenfranchised by race,
still holding our world together
in the dusky and lawless violence
manifest in colonial america.
Twenty-six million american women
at last granted the right to vote.
Oh, marginal notes in the sweet anthem
of equality, Indigenous non-citizens
turn to the older congress of the sun
seek in the assembled stories of sky
a steady enlightenment—natural laws
(the mathematics of bending trees,
sistering of nutrients—maizebeanssquash,
or wintering wisdom of animal relatives)
each seasonal chorus colored with resilience—
earth voices rising in sacred dream songs.
Even now listen, put on the moon-scored
shell of turtle, wear this ancient armour
of belonging. In the spiral of survivance
again harvest the amber sap of trees
follow the scattered path of manoomin
the wild and good seed that grows on water.
Oh water, oh rice, oh women of birch dreams
and baskets, gather. Here reap and reseed
raise brown hands trembling holy with endurance.
Now bead land knowledge into muklaks
sign with the treaty X of exclusion.
Kiss with fingers and lips the inherited
woodland flutes and breathy cedar songs.
Say yea, eya, and yes. Here and here cast
your tended nets—oh suffered and sweetly mended
nets of abundance. This year and each to follow
choose, not by paper but by pathway, a legacy:
woman’s work—our ageless ballad of continuance.
Copyright © 2020 Kimberly Blaeser. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
They signed The Declaration of Sentiments
with nib of rib, the right to suffrage their daring
Called ugly then witch, pretty then weak
to be at once woman and voter, their daring
Hunger, headaches, heartaches, hatred, death
all this, and more, it cost them, their daring
As men are born, with God’s grace, so are women
they urged and argued with brains and daring
With firm convictions and hopes of fallen yokes
steadfast they marched nursing dreams of future daring
Sojourner, Dolores, their daughters left behind
now work against voter suppression with daring
There is more work on the horizon, more
yeast to knead into the bread of their daring
Persist Claudia! in mind and body be
not ugly, not pretty, but ablaze with daring.
The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:
the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.
I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.
I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,
thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted
everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron
was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house
made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.
Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
Birthday, birthday, hurray, hurray
The 19th Amendment was ratified today
Drum rolls, piano rolls, trumpets bray
The 19th Amendment was ratified today
Left hand bounces, right hand strays
Maestro Joplin is leading the parade
Syncopated hashtags, polyrhythmic goose-steps
Ladies march to Pennsylvania Avenue!
Celebrate, ululate, caterwaul, praise
Women’s suffrage is all the rage
Sisters! Mothers! Throw off your bustles
Pedal your pushers to the voting booth
Pram it, waltz it, Studebaker roadster it
Drive your horseless carriage into the fray
Prime your cymbals, flute your skirts
One-step, two-step, kick-ball-change
Castlewalk, Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear waltz
Argentine Tango, flirty and hot
Mommies, grannies, young and old biddies
Temperance ladies sip bathtub gin
Unmuzzle your girl dogs, Iowa your demi-hogs
Battle-axe polymaths, gangster moms
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Lucy Burns and Carrie Chapman Catt
Alice Paul, come one, come all!
Sign the declaration at Seneca Falls!
Dada-faced spinsters, war-bond Prufrocks
Lillian Gish, make a silent wish
Debussy Cakewalk, Rachmaninoff rap
Preternatural hair bobs, hamster wheels
Crescendos, diminuendos, maniacal pianos
Syncopation mad, cut a rug with dad!
Oompa, tuba, majorette girl power
Baton over Spamalot!
Tiny babies, wearing onesies
Raise your bottles, tater-tots!
Accordion nannies, wash-board symphonies
The Great War is over!
Victory, freedom, justice, reason
Pikachu, sunflowers, pussy hats
Toss up your skull caps, wide brim feathers
Throwing shade on the seraphim
Hide your cell phones, raise your megaphones!
Speak truth to power
and vote, vote vote!
Nitwit legislators, gerrymandering fools
Dimwit commissioners, judicial tools
Toxic senators, unholy congressmen
Halitosis ombudsmen, mayoral tricks
Doom calf demagogues, racketeering mules
Whack-a-mole sheriffs, on the take
Fornicator governators, rakehell collaborators
Tweeter impersonators, racist prigs
Postbellum agitators, hooligan aldermen
Profiteering warmongers, Reconstruction dregs
Better run, rascals better pray
We’ll vote you out on judgement day!
Better run, rascals better pray
We’ll vote you out on election day!
Copyright © 2020 by Marilyn Chin. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
[Elvira H. D., 1924–2019]
You love a red lip. The dimples are
extra currency, though you take care to keep
powder from caking those charmed valleys.
Mascara: check. Blush? Oh, yes.
And a hat is never wrong
except evenings in the clubs: there
a deeper ruby and smoldering eye
will do the trick, with tiny embellishments—
a ribbon or jewel, perhaps a flower—
if one is feeling especially flirty or sad.
Until Rosie fired up her rivets, flaunting
was a male prerogative; now, you and your girls
have lacquered up and pinned on your tailfeathers,
fit to sally forth and trample each plopped heart
quivering at the tips of your patent-leather
Mary Janes. This is the only power you hold onto,
ripped from the dreams none of you believe
are worth the telling. Instead of mumbling,
why not decorate? Even in dim light
how you glister, sloe-eyed, your smile in flames.
The dining hall for instance: open roof beams,
open screens, and yard upon yard
of clean swept hardwood flooring, it
might almost be a family camp.
And likewise in the sleeping room: expanse
of window, paneled wall, and the
warmth implied by sunwash, only softened
here by half-drawn shades. You know
the kind?—dark canvas on a roller, in my
memory the canvas is always green. What I
couldn’t have guessed, except for the caption:
the logic behind the double row of well-
made beds. I’d like just once to have seen
his face, the keeper of order who
thought of it first: a prostitute on either side
of each of those women demanding
the vote. And “Negro,” to make the point perfectly
clear: You thought
your manners and your decent shoes would
keep you safe? He couldn’t have known
how much we’d take the lesson to heart.
At the workhouse in Virginia they’d started
the feedings with rubber tubes. Not here.
Or not that we’ve been told. The men
all dying in trenches in France. A
single system, just as we’ve been
learning for these hundred years. Empty
of people, the space looks almost benign.
Copyright © 2020 by Linda Gregerson. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The century speeds along
Sound & dust & color & light
Clouds speed over ballgames & wars
Nerves hanging off them Women watch
early election results Stressed-out women
in hats & choirs Women sitting under
suburban stars Women with husbands
or wives Housed or unhoused women
with herbs or guns Women with
friends & cats who are always tired
New medium or old to the world order
Who pull their masks tightly after the fires
Over 52,000,000 minutes... ...since the 19th
Amendment,,,,,, Over 26,000,000 women voted
after that ;;;;;; mostly only white women because
of the poll tax... Now let’s just think about that...
There are 53 minutes in a micro-century:::
We place extra dots as eyes for extra vision: : :
There are two periods in the 19th Amendment
i place them here . . for women
who want to be women or don’t
We were dodging the little zeroes between mystery
& meaning.,. history & hope We were walking or
driving i was flying left till my left wing broke
Some women vote with armed guards Some
have their forearms stamped The branches
of the oak are breaking off The particle
spirits are being used up There are two
men in amendment There is gerry in gerrymander
There are eyeless vans from Amazon outside
like hearses carrying the corpse of profit
Some women do not like to vote They think
the revolution will come faster The land
is blighted Muriel Is weather better if you
order on line Is earth’s orbit polyethelene
i thought of not voting but there isn’t time
The great dead teach the living not to hate or
to try to love imperfectly At what point
did voting really begin Wyoming (oddly)
was the first state Some practiced law
but couldn’t vote Seneca Falls 1848
Lucy Stone abolitionist could not vote
Impossible to reconcile what you want
with what you are …… i’m voting extra
with my shoe ✔✔✔ Applying text corrupter
here for how long justice takes 1̸̡̛͍̫̝͚̍̒͊̂2̴̨̙̱͚̀̽̒͘͠ͅ3̷̻̪̥̗̥̈́̽̎̓͗1̸̡̛͍̫̝͚̍̒͊̂2̴̨̙̱͚̀̽̒͘͠ͅ3̷̻̪̥̗̥̈́̽̎̓͗
We leafleted in 1968 Come out of your
house & stand now You count too
The right of citizens to vote,,,’’’ shall not (she’ll not)
be denied or abridged /// ;;; ;;;
(i’m adding 46 marks of punctuation for 46
years till 1966 Voting Rights Act)
by the U******nited States or by any State
.…..>>>>>> & the names will survive
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,,,,,, Hallie
Quinn Brown . . Mary Church Terrell
& Congress shall not remove cage kill & undo
citizens because of age ability gender race
etc. Some vote despite perfectionism
Messy marks in tiny tiny hollow squares
i voted first in 1972 tear gas My Lai Weather
Underground mostly voted against things then
Agent Orange the draft had gone
to the trailer park with leaflets We were new to
the Pill nice sex or terrible with skinny stoned boys
Smog in LA We stayed in the dorm burning incense
Can’t remember who i voted for ankles showing
under the curtain Metal bar on top
like you were taking a shower Mostly always voted
Just had the habit Once wrote in my friend
The land is blighted Adrienne Absentee ballot
i tear the numbered stub then i mail it in
Seatmate on the plane speaks first
older woman taking care of herself dental
assistant from Virginia i suspect she voted for t
Friendly over-60s whiteness is our commons
Our legs stick to fake leather flying over some
cleaned up rivers still adding carbon to the air
Her $12 cheese plate dwindles We talk We both
love our jobs She puts small instruments in patients’
mouths i use small instruments with patience
She’s going to Las Vegas to play black jack Laughs
Our story sails along inside oblivion
Our electrons speed inside oblivion
The yellow minutes of our coasts
The saturation of our voices
Centuries of women sick on a ship
Decades of women sick at the office
Women in tents in a marketplace
where the orange canary sings beside
the masterpiece they made At times i hear
the queen of ants At times i feel the great
dead choose for us to keep unreasonable
joy & revolution in the craft we made
We fed refusal to the storm to live
in the dream in revolt in realism
Copyright © 2020 Brenda Hillman. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
We hold these truths to be self-evident...
—The Declaration of Independence
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
In Rochester, New York,
you were buried and I was born,
and both of us voted for the very first time
and we—would you include me in your “we”?
may I include you in mine?—
were both denied and abridged
on account of sex, told our bodies made us less
than who we knew we were
by the same United States
that wrapped us in the privilege
to the whiteness of our skins.
Unlike me, you didn’t take privilege for granted.
At 17, I was doing drugs and hitching
across the country whose injustice
I didn’t want to see; you were petitioning
for the end of slavery,
practicing for a lifetime
of opposing institutions
that diminish humanity.
My parents did social work, back
when the social work business was booming;
yours, abolitionists, made money from a cotton factory,
profiting from slavery
until, ruined, they bought a farm in Rochester,
hosting activists on Sundays, including Frederick Douglass,
who became a friend.
A few years later, about the age
I devoted myself to getting tenure at a school
that still doesn’t hire black professors
and pays women less than men
(I got a bonus for pretending
I was one of them),
you devoted your life to making
the kind of trouble
I spent my life avoiding,
speaking out, getting arrested, refusing to pretend
to be other or less
than the woman you were,
an unabridged citizen
determined to make America as true
as Frederick Douglass and you
to the “We”
that created her.
In Rochester, New York,
it was against the law for you to vote,
but still, it wasn’t easy
for a white lady like you, well-schooled and well-connected,
to get sent to jail.
First, you had to brave the barbershop
and bully the election inspectors
into registering you.
Hair was being cut, razors stropped,
the beards of patriarchy trimmed.
The boys weren’t moved by your citation
of the 14th Amendment and the New York Constitution
until you threatened legal action.
You had a judge behind you, you said.
Fourteen women altogether
made it onto the rolls, prompting a newspaper to proclaim in panic:
“Citizenship no more carries the right to vote
than the right to fly to the moon.”
“Well I have been and gone and done it!!”
you wrote your bff, Elizabeth Cady (“Mrs.”) Stanton—
not flown to the moon, but “positively voted”
on the fifth of November, 1872.
A week and a half later, a warrant was issued for your arrest
for voting while female
(maximum penalty: three years imprisonment).
A deputy marshal appeared in your parlor
wearing a beaver hat; said the weather was fine
(not likely, given the beaver hat and Rochester in November)
and invited you (you were a white lady, after all)
to call on the election commissioner.
“Is that the way you arrest men?” you asked. Demanded
to be led out in handcuffs.
You won that argument too.
The embarrassed young man
brought you, you would later say,
to “the same dingy little room where ... fugitive slaves
were examined and returned to their masters.”
A grand jury was impaneled.
You were delighted, hoping to be imprisoned,
and twice refused bail.
No such luck. Your own attorney bailed you out
because, he said, “I could not see a lady I respected
put in jail.” The good news was
the grand jury, twenty men, indicted you
for voting, the charges said,
being then and there, as you well knew,
a person of the female sex,
contrary to the statute
and against the peace
of the United States of America.
In a grey silk dress, white lace collar, and neatly knotted hair,
you spent the months before your trial
giving speeches the prosecutor feared
would persuade every potential juror
to find you innocent. He needn’t have worried.
The Supreme Court had been busy
narrowing the 14th Amendment
to preserve the right to discriminate
on the basis of sex. The judge sustained the objection
that you, as a woman, were “not competent” to testify
about your own opinions;
barred you from taking the stand;
read the guilty verdict he’d written
before the trial began.
He didn’t let the jurors say a word,
but though he kept trying,
he couldn’t stop you from declaring
that you’d been convicted according to laws
written, interpreted and applied
by and for the very same men
who, not long before, had made it a crime,
“punishable with a $1,000 fine
and six months imprisonment”
to give a fugitive slave
a swallow of water or crust of bread.
“As the slaves who got their freedom,” you said,
“over, or under, or through
the unjust forms of law,
now, must women, to get their right
to a voice in this government, take it.”
Over every objection, you did.
In Rochester, New York,
I grew up in the America you insisted had no right
not to exist:
slavery abolished, voting rights
unabridgeable, at least on paper,
on account of race or sex,
child of a card-carrying member
of your descendants, the League of Women Voters. My mother
who thought I was her son
taught me nothing
about how to be a woman,
but she taught me to vote
and how to drive a stick;
stood up for herself in supermarkets,
spoke in a low voice (she’d trained for radio)
and showed me how to live
without being ashamed
of being different. A magazine on her nightstand
taught me the word for what I am,
though it was forty years
before she heard me say it,
a word you never learned,
a word that didn’t exist
for a way of being human
you probably couldn’t imagine.
I guess I’m not a truth
you’d hold self-evident.
I wonder if you’d think I was created equal,
was created at all, in fact,
or am just another outrage
perpetrated by men. I wonder if you’d see me
refusing to be abridged
and tell me, as my mother did,
“Whatever you look like,
you’ll always be my child.”
No. You wouldn’t say that.
You didn’t have people like me in mind
when you fought your country to redefine
what it means to be a woman,
but here we are
and here I am, abridged, like you, on account of sex, wrapped
in education, money, and whiteness
that have so far kept me from being jailed,
evicted, beaten, burned or tossed in a ditch
as my sisters have
for defying, like you, statute and form
and every decree and argument
that we are created less,
created to hide, created to cringe, created to accept
that we’re excluded, by definition,
from the unabridgeable “We”
by whom, for whom,
America was created.
As you said in your suffrage speeches,
I’m not arguing the question.
America needed you to refuse
the unjust forms
you dragged her
over and under and through.
Whether or not you see us
as your daughters,
America needs us too.
Acknowledgments: Historical details and some phrases in this poem drawn from “The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: an Account,” by Professor Douglas O. Linder, the Wikipedia biography of Susan B. Anthony, and the second count of the indictment of Susan B. Anthony for voting.
Copyright © 2020 Joy Ladin. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
After reading a letter from his mother, Harry T. Burn cast the deciding vote to ratify the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution
My parents are from countries
where mangoes grow wild and bold
and eagles cry the sky in arcs and dips.
America loved this bird too and made
it clutch olives and arrows. Some think
if an eaglet falls, the mother will swoop
down to catch it. It won’t. The eagle must fly
on its own accord by first testing the air-slide
over each pinfeather. Even in a letter of wind,
a mother holds so much power. After the pipping
of the egg, after the branching—an eagle is on
its own. Must make the choice on its own
no matter what its been taught. Some forget
that pound for pound, eagle feathers are stronger
than an airplane wing. And even one letter, one
vote can make the difference for every bright thing.
That one story worth your telling
Is the ancient tale of the encounter
With the goddess
Declares the poet Robert Graves
You can come and see
A sublime bronze avatar of the goddess
Standing in the harbor holding a book and lifting a torch
Among us her name is Liberty
She has many names and she is everywhere
You can also find her easily
Don’t be afraid—
Just do whatever she tells you to do
Copyright © 2020 Alicia Ostriker. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
Seraph Young Ford, Maryland, 1887
First woman to vote in Utah and the modern nation, February 14, 1870.
I am known, if at all, for a moment’s
pride: first American woman
in the modern nation
to vote though at the time
I wasn’t considered American
by all. Not modern, either,
but Mormon, one
the East Coast suffragists had hoped
would vote Utah’s scourge of polygamy
out. But plural marriage
was on no ballot
I ever saw. Why would it be,
my mother asked, when men
make laws and shape
their women’s choice in freedoms?
And how changeable
those freedoms are
denied or given
certain women, she knew, who saw
a Shoshone woman one day selling ponies
from a stall: watched, amazed,
her pocket all the earnings
without a husband’s permission.
I wouldn’t be a white girl
for all the horses
in the world, the woman scoffed
at her astonishment: my mother
who never sold an apple
without my father’s
say-so. Like my mother,
I married young, to an older man who believed—
like certain, stiff-backed politicians—
to join the union, Utah
must acculturate, scrub off
the oddities and freedoms
of its difference, renounce
some part of politics and faith:
our secrecy and marriage customs,
and then my woman’s right to vote. All gone
to make us join
the “modern” state—
And so perhaps I might be known
for what I’ve lost: a right, a home,
and now my mother, who died
the year we moved back East.
How fragile, indeed, are rights
and hopes, how unstable the powers
to which we grow attached.
My husband now can barely leave his bed.
As he’s grown ill, I’ve watched myself
become the wife
of many men, as all men in the end
to a congregation of women.
When he dies, I’ll move back West
to where my mother’s buried
and buy some land with the money
that she left—
To me alone she wrote,
who loved me,
and so for love of her
I’ll buy a house
and marble headstone
and fill my land with horses.
Copyright © 2020 Paisley Rekdal. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
eenie meenie minie moe
catch a voter by her toe
if she hollers then you know
got yourself a real jane crow
* * *
one vote is an opinion
with a quiet legal force ::
a barely audible beep
in the local traffic, & just
a plashless drop of mercury
in the national thermometer.
but a collectivity of votes
/a flock of votes, a pride of votes,
a murder of votes/ can really
make some noise.
* * *
one vote begets another
if you make a habit of it.
my mother started taking me
to the polls with her when i
was seven :: small, thrilled
to step in the booth, pull
the drab curtain hush-shut
behind us, & flip the levers
beside each name she pointed
to, the Xs clicking into view.
there, she called the shots.
* * *
rich gal, poor gal
hired girl, thief
vote your grief
* * *
one vote’s as good as another
:: still, in 1913, illinois’s gentle
suffragists, hearing southern
women would resent spotting
mrs. ida b. wells-barnett amidst
whites marchers, gently kicked
their sister to the curb. but when
the march kicked off, ida got
right into formation, as planned.
the tribune’s photo showed
her present & accounted for.
* * *
one vote can be hard to keep
an eye on :: but several /a
colony of votes/ can’t scuttle
away unnoticed so easily. my
mother, veteran registrar for
our majority black election
district, once found—after
much searching—two bags
of ballots /a litter of votes/
stuffed in a janitorial closet.
* * *
* * *
one vote was all fannie lou
hamer wanted. in 1962, when
her constitutional right was
over forty years old, she tried
to register. all she got for her
trouble was literacy tested, poll
taxed, fired, evicted, & shot
at. a year of grassroots activism
nearly planted her mississippi
freedom democratic party
in the national convention.
* * *
one vote per eligible voter
was all stacey abrams needed.
she nearly won the georgia
governor’s race in 2018 :: lost by
50,000 /an unkindness of votes/
to the man whose job was
maintaining the voter rolls.
days later, she rolled out plans
for getting voters a fair fight.
it’s been two years—& counting.
In 1899, Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio, applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” He had created a mechanical system that adjusted the ballot the voter would see based on whether that voter was a man or a woman.
—David Kindy, Smithsonian.com
When you enter the booth
through the door marked
ladies, listen for the click
and turn—levers and gears
designed to conceal.
Don’t trouble yourself,
they say, with the say
you aren’t allowed to have,
not yet. Where the partial
precedes the whole,
how not to feel partially
human, not quite
a self? When you enter
the booth, you will hear
away, the grate of metal
on metal. The whole
is coming. Listen
for the turn.
Copyright © 2020 Maggie Smith. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
Decades I have waited to make sunlight
for all of this to matter, a mark built to
rest and a mark laid living. I am sworn
to my worth even when the scales weep
their own little swords, slanting outside
the song and full of soothing to speak each
vowel. Everything happens toward its own
making, an infinite becoming from all that
is yet to be faced. When it seemed
as though I had touched the arm of love,
little did I know, I had found a door
with which to enter the sky. And to
the sky, little did I know, the door would
open for me. All, as it will be, as it should be,
in effort of The Great Balance.
Five days ago, I stood under a flight of egrets,
shifting between fenced field of mud and factory
yard. What could they have guessed of stability,
a fairness of wings, restoring what had always been
theirs to have. Like them, I have
steeped myself with others, for so long my roots
sprouting from the cloud of this fight, daring to follow
where the arrow leads, until it is my turn.
Until now, my turn.