Woman

for the love of god

dig your feet into the earth and sing of cellulite

of the thicket of gnarled shadow at the apex of thigh

of the sweet tart smell of you pooling under your arms on a summer day

of muffin top and peach fuzz and caesarian scar

because in all this is woman

 

for the love of god

grind your toes into the grass

and sing in her name

of the painful jut of hipbone and shoulder blade

of the line of the spine and the bend of a hip

of crows feet and laugh lines and all the creases

because in all of them is woman

 

for the love of god

wade into the surf

and sing of stretch marks

blooming wine purple

of chipped nails and chipped teeth

and knobbly knuckles and bony knees

and yes, of Adam’s apple bobbing in the throat of Eve

in that too is woman

 

for the love of god

let the sun deep into your flesh

turn blood into golden ichor

and sing of rose bleeding past binary

of throats raw and voices hoarse

with the work of declaring our presence

sing of belly laugh and groan and sob and scream

sing of hurricane and wildfire

orchid bloom and bee sting

of mama bear and mother hen

of being and breathing and seeing and living

because in all this is woman

all of it is woman

 

Dia Bhojwani is a 15-year-old student, writer and self-professed nerd born and raised in Mumbai, India. The chief editor of her school magazine, she’s previously been published by Beetle Literary Magazine and The Punch Magazine, amongst other publications, and has won awards from Lune Spark and the WingWord Poetry Prize. Her first book, The Pandemic Diaries, was published in January 2021. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sketching, or watching cartoons – a guilty pleasure. 
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“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Roxane Gay. Difficult Women. 2017. 272 pages. $9.58. ISBN: 0802127371.

My dad and I are sitting behind a table covered in rainbow strips of cloth, ready to teach festival-goers how to twist them into cordage bracelets. I stand to look at the thick layer of thigh-shaped sweat on my metal chair and think, This is so something that would be in Difficult Women. A man sitting in the booth to the left of me glances over at the book in my hands and says, “That’s yours? For a second I thought it was your dad’s and I was gonna say, that’s a dangerous book for a man to be reading in public!”

I mean come on! If this isn’t the total epitome of Roxane Gay’s recent collection, I don’t know what is!

Twenty minutes later, my cheeks are covered in tears. Not because of the man but because of the honesty in “I Will Follow You,” the first story in Difficult Women. Forget the sexist guy who interrupted my reading! Every woman should read this. Every man should read this. Everyone should read this.

Difficult Women is not a book in which women overcome male-inflicted violence. Difficult Women is not a book in which women discover their sexuality. The women in Difficult Women have always embraced their sexuality. They use violence and tragedy to empower themselves. Gay whips her readers into shape with sharp commentary and humor with lines such as “We were young once and then we weren’t,” and “Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.” Roxane Gay makes her readers forget they ever enjoyed ‘skimming.’

From a woman receiving a fiberglass baby arm as a gift to a man flying into the sun and ridding the earth of light, Roxane Gay’s storytelling causes her readers to consider concepts that wouldn’t seem to be feminist. The feminism in Difficult Women sneaks up behind you only to laugh when you jump. In “I Will Follow You,” two sisters suffer through childhood violence and disparaging marriage; they are always together and always suffering.

Difficult Women is full of varying structures, and takes on a less traditional tone than most fiction collections. Stories such as “How” and “Difficult Women” are split into titled sections and read more like developed character studies than traditional short stories. “I am a Knife” uses a lyrical voice and focuses on poetic narrative rather than following a clear storyline. The first lines of stories like “Water, All Its Weight” and “La Negra Blanca” are bold and immediately submerge the reader into the story.

These stories are like nothing you have read or will read again. I didn’t spend hours in bed with this book and finish it feeling fresh and cheery. Difficult Women haunted me for weeks. I felt that Gay’s stories were my own. I was every main character she created. I took hour-long showers drenched in hot water and Gay’s words. I submerged myself in her narrative. This book will swallow you whole, but do we remember and cherish the books that don’t?

Emily Clarke is a Cahuilla Native American writer whose favorite words include meat, belly, milk, and mud. 

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