Throughout Women’s History Month, we’ll be celebrating the poets from Women of Resistance. Patricia Smith is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art, which won the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She is the winner of a 2018 NAACP Image Award, a four-time individual National Poetry Slam champion, the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and former fellow of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony.

What She Thinks as She Waits by the Door

Alice Kramden of The Honeymooners

I was crafted, it would seem, to squeal demurely beneath
his shifting flab, to pucker my carnation lips on cue, to ladle
gobs of twice-boiled vegetables and stringy slabs of meat

into his grumbling yap. It would seem that way. After all,
the whole of my body is apron. I am always holding that
scorched pot, a bleached towel, a gray sopping sponge,

an iron, his huge hot folded trousers, a mop, a crusted dish,
a broom. I am always expertly positioned near the door
of this tenement hovel that’s not much more than this single

room, my eyes wide and feigning joy, poised to drip sugar
around his blustering evening entrance. The air is decorated
with the words control, control while chunks of water grow

stale in the belly of the icebox. I am 1950s faultless, my pert
strawberry crown primly ponied. Never wore a dress that wasn’t
a tribute to him. You don’t believe I stood still and perfectly

upright for my wedding vows. Drowning in mama’s wilting
taffeta, I was a bell: I do, I do, I do. And I did. With God and
a room of pouters as witness, I committed to a post-war, eerily

patient love. Beside me, splotched scarlet, he panted under
snug collar, a flowered tonic dripping from his curls. I could
have crashed his stunned smile with a finger. Someone said

God, then someone said wife, and I was so clarified as I sparkled,
I was my own headspring of light, I arced toward the domestic
promise wiggling in flaccid fingers. I did not hear the word

fist. I was anxious to build a romance, and I did. My lips found
the folds water couldn’t reach. I gave him the name of a wall.
The first morning we rose from our separate untumbled beds,

our night skins pimpled and flushed with the prospect of touch,
was the first time he hefted his fist, it has brushed past my unblinking
eye, my chin, my clamped jaw, while the moon, uninterested,

is the same blaring yellow kink in our sleep. Screeching his
blind intent, To the moon, Alice, to the moon!, his eyes google
the lifted fist quivers, the spittle of his day needles my cheeeks.

One of these days, Alice, one of these days! Bang! Zoom!
Without speaking, I show him who he truly is. I call stupid out
where stupid is. I’m mute while he spouts another craving wide
enough to fall through. Our tiled floor is littered with schemes,

his punctured zeal: I’m gonna get a better job. Got a new idea,
we’ll be swimming in dough. Gonna take you out jitterbugging,
baby, buy you a dress, gonna turn our noses up to the hoi polloi.

I’m a champ at suffering his relentless inventions, concoctions
of spit and wood utterly guaranteed to drown us in new money.
What he can’t say: Baby, there’s got to be something better

than that bus, the smolder, the street disappearing beneath me.
I know he aches to give the slip to the same stream of the same
folded-face New Yorkers, all snarling and stank with factory,
nodding him their dead howdy-dos and clutching just enough
change to move themselves forward. It’s the cage of the ride,
baby, every day like every week like every month like every year

year like every and the wheels on the bus go round and round
and when he finally makes it home, to door, to this box, to wife,
he bursts in, sputtering some fresh grail, bound to clatter and rise,

and I am gingham and smelling of spray starch, my whole day
beneath my nails, I am twang and the wide-eye, Really, Ralph?
I hold my breath, cramming his crave with stew meat

and ice water until it all comes exploding down, until he can’t
turn his bulk in any direction without reaching a corner, until he
realizes, yet again, that his best friend stinks of sewage and, for

reasons we pretend to have forgotten, I am never ever naked.
And yes, I know what my practiced smirk practically begs him
to do—Pow! Right in the kisser! But that sweaty mitt, hovering

high with such sad engine behind it, will never fall. See, every
woman is damned with a man to raise, a swaggering snarl of belly
and bicep, and every ounce of the one I’ve been given cracks dulcet

beneath my held tongue and primp. I let the world burn brash
through him, because when he resurrects, when he yanks loose my
apron ties and mutters Baby, you’re the greatest, it is still 1955, a time

of steam radiators and vows of stiff lyric, and he is everything a man
can be just then. I am wife. I am what the fist craves. And I am the fist.


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