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I could tell you that Mathis’ The Women Widowed to Themselves is a poignant reflection of herself as a young woman still coming to grips with navigating life’s sharp corners. Such would be true. Mathis displays damning honesty in pieces like “Quiet Game Starting Now” in which she so adeptly describes the feeling of wishing it were a less difficult task to escape physicality, to simply retreat from being:
What I want is a womb of silence.
The quiet of a place where I don’t exist.”
However, despite its refreshing candour, it was not only Mathis’ vulnerability and willingness to expose her most private experiences that floored me, but above all, the tenacity she exhibits when writing in reference to male/female relationships. The Women Widowed to Themselves is so much more than an introspective, self-reflective collection. Such collections can be interesting, relatable, enlightening, but Mathis’ collection is still more. The Women Widowed to Themselves is, perhaps even unconsciously, perhaps without Mathis even having realized it herself, a rush to the front line, a battle cry, an urging attack on male privilege.
My favourite example of Mathis’ challenge of male entitlement comes in the poem “Look”, which in full simply reads:
think you are.
Don’t you dare send me
unwarranted dick pics again.”
It’s a caustic poem and one that questions in only seven lines the all too common belief that women exist to be imposed upon by men. That men are sanctioned to occupy all spaces, with or without invitation. That they can, to be more frank, send women an unprovoked sexual picture, a baseless predatory advance, and yet still be considered in the context of “not all men”, in the context of “one of the good guys”.
Another instance in which I was left feeling that this collection was less than merely a catalogue of Mathis’ own thoughts and experiences and more a flying arrow let loose with the intention of hitting a bullseye came in the poem “Baby Darling Honey”:
but he wants to get me a little closer.
Close enough that I become part of him:
a new limb, a second skin,
a womb for him to crawl back into.”
Here, Mathis takes it further than critiquing the daily aggravations women are forced to deal with at the hands of men. Because it is not that we are just tired of the unsolicited dick pics, the cat calls, the street harassment we’re expected to be grateful for, the hands that are certain they belong wherever they insist themselves… It is not only these things. It is that we are tired of being seen as a place for men to inhabit. A void they think it is their birth right to fill. We are not here for their fulfilment, their arousal, their sexual gratification. Not even for their comfort. We are not here for them at all, a fact I feel is summed up best in these last two extracts:
Is my body.
Is my body. Is my body.
Is my body. Is my body.
Is my body is my body.”
– from “Flank of Meat Cooked Up”
“I am a woman possessed
A woman unsatisfied
A weary woman
A spell-casting woman
clucking her tongue
as she recites your name.
An assertive woman
A longing woman,
dancing in shapes with you
when you are not there.
A learning woman.
A womb of a woman,
pregnant with selves.
A woman that is so many women.
But your woman?
Even with my back arched
and hair matted with your sweat
I do not like the sound of it.”
– from “Put Pressure on a Wound to Stop it from Bleeding”
The Women Widowed to Themselves is an engrossing read, one that introduces us not only to Mathis, but to the experiences of all women alike. I can’t say I am privy to the reason behind Mathis’ choice of title, but I have my own take on it, as all readers will. Personally, I choose to see it as a reference to all the women that have been left alone long enough to realize that alone is an option. That their own company is good company. That it is only when we are left to ourselves that we learn to put ourselves first. That we deserve that priority.
Lora Mathis is the Director of Purchasing and Visual Arts Curator for Where Are You Press. She is a poet and photographer from San Diego. Author of the poetry collections “bigger bolder less pathetic” and “i forgive everyone,” she also co-runs the zine press ink/paper press. Her photography and poetry has been featured in The Fem Lit Mag, Words Dance, and Vagabond City Lit. She currently lives in Portland, OR. Where Are You Press published her latest book, The Women Widowed to Themselves.
Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.