SENECA FALLS, 1998

 

Dori Appel

 

Betty Friedan speaks at the 150th anniversary

Of the first Women's Rights Conference

 

With an elegant sniff you greet the crowd

like a hound who's just found home.

Too frail to stand, you sit behind

a microphone in the ruined

Wesleyan Chapel, a ferocious midday sun

beating down through the absent roof.

It was here those uppity sixty-eight

first claimed the right to vote.

 

In two days' time they made a revolution,

trying their voices in the echoing hall

while braced for ridicule—

those women who owned nothing,

not even their heavy layers

of clothes (petticoats tangling around

their thighs, bodices blooming

with sweat while stays and corset laces

punished every breath).

 

It's odd to find you so delicate

(forgive me— almost lady-like),

your features arranged more

decorously than in those madcap

newspaper shots that always seemed to

catch you with your mouth

out of alignment and your hair

askew. Still, it's clearly you,

the famous bags beneath your eyes

plumped up with memories

that you retrieve like sweets from

some soft, capacious handbag.

“It was work," you say, recalling those

days of wild invention—

the meetings, speeches, lawsuits—

"But, oh! it was so much fun!”

 

The secret's out, what kept you going

and kept them going, those women

exalted by heat and the thrill

of possibilities, the ones who rarely

smiled for their sepia photographs.

 

Today I hear them laugh.

 

 

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© 2007 Women in Judaism, Inc.



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