SALLY RIDE WATCHES THE CHALLENGER EXPLODE
I know what it is to be boxed in hot light,
ushered into more darkness, pinpricked
by the flamed needle of stars. All my life,
I carried the weight of planetary anxieties.
Fire propelled me as it propels a shuttle—
Do you cry when the job gets too hard?
No, but when The Challenger bursts
and my friends turn into a firework display
of smoke, and everyone curiously coos
as if this must be the intended magic of space flight,
my skeleton quivers. My heart drums a cry
that screams onslaught. Do you wish you were a man?
I’ve been fighting long enough to know that men
can’t save me, and danger knows no gender.
When my friends die, I taste that sticky gel
we ate in space—it’s stuck in the back of my throat.
It tastes just like rage. Two women died.
Judith, whose weightless curls made a halo
that startled everyone. And the schoolteacher,
who only desired to show her children
that there’s a world outside of this world.
Did the flight affect your reproductive organs?
We all want to shatter those G force shackles.
Today is extinguished. Perhaps yesterday
played a prank on me and tomorrow
I’ll know there’s never escape. I’m alone
and my lover can’t hold me in public,
because she’s a secret I must protect
from questions. I only have this:
my plump lungs, my empty stomach,
a match struck and held to my toes,
fire charring every part of me,
fire killing my friends every day I wake;
I can’t understand this machine
of grief, its solitary axles,
its weights, its malfunctions.
“Thanks a lot, society, for railroading my ass.” –Aileen Wuornos’ last interview
Every woman is born bound to the railroad tracks.
Look, my hands in cuffs make angel wings.
Look, little boys turn hands into guns or fists.
You assume male monsters are more recognizable
than me: fucking bullshit. More easily forgiven, maybe.
They walk among you every day, sniffing
out women’s crotches like hounds, the attack
always excused as provoked, as the nature
of a dog. Think of your little girl,
all her life, you’ll govern her to softness—
you’ll ignore her canine teeth, you’ll train away her rage.
When I touched men, I touched transience until
I learned how to touch fire without burning, how to
laugh in an unlit parking lot, how to wrench nights
from their comatose. Finally, I could look in the mirror
and fall in love with my hunger, nursing a secret
like a real mother. I lit a cig after every man I shot–
smoke snaked across their corpses and lassoed
them and it felt like clarity. It felt like desire.
I’d coughed up that bone of discord, choking
those feral dreams, all my life, kicked and kicking,
boxed in stables and put down when wildness
turned rabid. Every woman is born strapped to a track,
the train is coming, and no one gives a shit about rescue.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013) and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, forthcoming). Her work appears in Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, The Pinch, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient. http://anne-champion.com