The Forgotten Poem

25 Jan

by Kat Kelley

Even some revolutionaries are lovers, and even some poets have sweethearts and babies.
Even some women change the world, and even some mothers have become themselves.
I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

My mother handed me this poem, printed on a cobalt rectangle, before I traveled to Egypt, at age seventeen. She’s seen the world, and she made it all happen for herself. And she gave me the following poem, which saw Israel and Nicaragua, Poland and Kenya, tucked deep in her wallet.

This cobalt rectangle is sacred. It’s a relic. A letter in a bottle, washed up on the shores. A forgotten poem.

The day has come- Google has failed me- the only result I’ve been able to find on the poem is from an online forum, from the Nassau Community College. In Courier font, Caroline reminisces “I handcut a silkscreen stencil of a very, very short and beautiful poem […] and made it into a poster […] It was the early days of the women’s liberation movement, London.”

That is all.

I slip the cobalt rectangle out from time to time- kayaking on the Nile at sunset, on the taxi ride home from my strictly females-only aerobic class in Muscat, at the Ubuntu at Work workspace- watching the women use the power saw for the first time.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

The poem speaks silent volumes. It is a forgotten voice from the early years of the women’s movement. It tells of the enduring sacrifices. It tells of women shattering their glass ceilings, but remembering that it’s okay to want a partner and love and children too. It speaks of redefining “having it all”- and realizing what “it all” means to you.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

This line is my checks and balances. It reminds me that it’s okay to know that one day I will make sacrifices for my family, not because I am a woman, but because I want to coach U-8 soccer, take the girl scouts into the mountains, help my son memorize his lines for the upcoming drama production, and slam my foot on a non-existent break while watching my babies behind the wheel for the first time.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

It served as my cultural relativism while abroad in Egypt, Oman, India, and Sri Lanka. It reminds me that while our choices do not exist in a vacuum, while one’s choices are inextricably bound by their culture, history, and happenstance, their choices are still valid.

After a weekend with the bedouins, I called my mother from my apartment in Muscat. It was idyllic- I drank camel’s milk and rode in a four-wheeler through Arabian dunes, watched massive turtles protect their eggs and trekked and breaststroked into a cave housing a waterfall. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, I broke down. To hell with cultural relativism. “Just because women were taken as hostages in tribal warfare hundreds of years ago, doesn’t mean they should have to cover themselves, don all black, and refrain from engaging in platonic relationships with men!” I wanted to stop hearing excuses for gender inequality. I wanted more for Omani women than many of them wanted for themselves.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

Even in class, there are moments that this line floats through my mind.

Preparing a fifteen minute presentation for class on the negative health outcomes of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was simple (except finding pictures to include in the slideshow). Challenging a tradition that is all you’ve ever known, that whisks you into womanhood, that inducts you into the realms of your mother and aunts, grandmother and ancestors, on which marriage is contingent in your village- this is not simple.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

As a feminist I strive to shatter my own glass ceilings, to support and empower the women in my life to do the same. However, I must remind myself that most women were not raised by a mother who taught them to thrive in challenging the status quo. And we must simultaneously recognize the validity of others’ choices, while fighting the influences that restrict those choices.

3 Responses to “The Forgotten Poem”

  1. Denise January 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    The Forgotten Poem has gotten me through the 70’s-2013’s. It is by my bed and on my desk. The author is somewhat unknown but it speaks to all of us, all genders and generations- yesterday,today and tomorrow. Denise


  1. Fabulous Feminist Fridays: What is Your Favorite Feminist Quote? « Feminists-at-Large - February 15, 2013

    […] And of course, the forgotten poem. […]

  2. The Portrait of a Feminist | Feminists-at-Large - May 12, 2013

    […] the feelings I have and explains them to me, reminiscing on her days of adventure. She recites the Forgotten Poem and I know that thousands of miles away, she is […]

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