What We Tell Ourselves

What We Tell Ourselves

I show him my pay stub my weekly deposit
slip reasons for needing ten dollars      this is
how it has to be This
                            is working nine hour days
on my feet barely a break to come home
cook sweep mop wash wait
on him This
                            is watching it fall around me
him sitting while shingles fly with every wind
gutters hanging loose leaking the back porch
needing the new gate This is him
                                                        watching me
while I push mow rake leaves rake limbs this is him
this is his and I have no business asking
for help or money        I shouldn’t expect him to

the woman’s place is to submit this
is fitting to the Lord

[You can walk away
                            and not look back]

I’m too tired It’s too expensive It was
his time to go I’ll pray for you I had no
idea this was coming I’ve never raised
my voice or a hand to her She
has another feller The water is safe
Things are different
for a girl You can’t do that I won’t
let you I will knock your head off
I will take your car keys Do you
hear me I don’t want to I’m not able to
She’s wanted this for a long time She
asked for it
                                                      deep down
I come by it natural I come by it honest

[You can stay
                   and survive]

You’ll never get married if you can’t handle a man
wailin’ on you       if you don’t change
your attitude       don’t shut up         don’t
wear more dresses make up       if you don’t learn to cook
don’t stop being bossy       you better stop trying to show
how smart you are                   stop tearing your legs up
playing sports, men like legs     stop sleeping
in sports bras, men like big breasts like your mother’s
things are different for a girl           whatever this is
                                                        you’d better get over it

[You can leave]

I never wanted to stay I never wanted to
leave I never wanted to come back to gravel dust
I could not wait to leave I could not breathe
in the shadows I could not stand
the good country boys could not stand
the bible-thumping teenage girl humping
men I never could keep a secret
their shit-eating grins scratch-my-back politics
I know I will never meet people
as honey-suckle good as home
I know city neighbors won’t never love me
as much I know what the good country
people say I know the good curvy road
I know how my skin tightens
when I have to go home I don’t want to
go home I don’t know where
home is I don’t know if I love
the mountains I don’t know if I hate
the mountains I love to drown
in the mountains I hate the crooked
mountains I love the mountains I hate
the mountains I love the mountains I hate
the mountains I love

[It’s a choice]

On the long dry days I wish I had hit you
I wish I had reared back as you screamed
Ill knock your damned teeth out
I wish I had let it fly I wish I’d
cocked my fist to your jaw right
as you claimed
Ill do it                         I will

On those days I wake with the copper taste
of hate in my mouth When I can’t
sweat it out cold I can’t hold it
under the creek of me
I know I don’t know
which I hate more
your lack of follow-
through or my own

[Our anger is a lantern This little light
of mine]

Hang it in the family room

Man puts his hand to the flinty rock
     and overturns mountains by the roots.
He cuts out the channels in the rocks,
     and his eye sees every precious thing.
He dams up the streams so that they do
              not trickle,
and the thing that is hidden he brings
              out to light.

But where shall wisdom be found?

[It’s our fault]


Rid her of topsoil        cleanse the skin
blast it open with knife           with dynamite
[The things we mine out are what kill us]
Needlewire your way to the seam        dragline tissue
swift    strive for clean margins            Place small clips
metal clips to mark your spoil     Don’t over burden
her with waste     use a drain for the slurry
What would we save if we didn’t destroy            the breast
Follow up with sponge baths support groups
radiation bumper stickers Then you can
reclaim what is yours

[You can come back]

She always was a little bit quare they’ll say
when you show up at the funeral home
with a full-on lezzie pompadour
black dress and tights be damned
Still you’ll smile and tell them you’re doing
just fine           even after the good church folks
stare at you side-eyed and whisper backslider

[You can forgive]

When it all goes to hell, the holiest
among them turn on you first     will
open a red-spined hymnal        sing
It is well [it is well] with my soul [with my soul]
It is well it is well with my soul

[It’s not our fault]

Once the mountains loved us. Once we loved the mountains.

Savannah Sipple is the author of WWJD & Other Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019). A writer from east Kentucky, her poems have recently been published in Appalachian Heritage, Talking River, The Offing, and The Louisville Review. She is also the recipient of grants from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Elizabeth Morse at 5:41 pm

    I love this! All those wonderful voices talking about womanhood! My mother’s family was (and is) just like this.

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