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Poem: "Sisters in Venom" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Sisters in Venom"

This poem came out of the January 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from aldersprig (women being evil to each other) and DW user Serpentine (the dark lord as a woman).  It has been sponsored by the_vulture.

"Sisters in Venom" is probably the harshest poem that I wrote in this fishbowl session.  In addition to prompts, it draws on antebellum American history.  While not based on an individual  incident, it is something that played out in many plantation households.  I read about this conflict pattern both in history and in feminism.  If you choose to discuss it, please try to be respectful of other people's beliefs and feelings; this is controversial territory.

WARNING: This poem contains racist and sexist language, vicious behavior, domestic violence, and ugly history.  Sensitive viewers may prefer to read something else.


Sisters in Venom


He is her husband, but he don't love her.
She knows what he does with that nigger wench.
Here in the Big House, she may be Mistress,
but everybody laughs at a wife who can't keep her husband at home.
She takes a switch to that black girl's hide every chance she gets.

He is her owner, but he don't love her.
She knows how he smacks his bitch of a wife
and she ain't fooled by his honeyed words of freedom;
she swivels her hips at him anyhow when she sees Mistress watching.
She hides bent nails under the floorboards of the Big House.

These two women hate each other with their whole hearts,
for all it was him who started the war.
They sow thistles and reap thorns
with every word they say.
They lick razor blades
and smile at each other through the blood.
They are sisters in venom only.

At night, he tosses and turns, wondering
why he can't sleep a wink in either of their beds.


* * *

Notes & Resources

Slaves often put curses on cruel owners, and evidence of this has turned up in archaeological excavations of slave cabins and plantation houses.  The bent nails are one such example, often placed under a bed to cause nightmares.  "Plantations ... Are They Haunted?" touches on some of the mystical traditions and beliefs about slaves cursing their owners. There is a lot of Christian sermonizing toward the end, but the earlier overview of the topic is pretty straightforward.

"Mistresses and Slaves" looks at both positive and negative interactions between white and black women.

"Gender, Sex and Slavery" is a class discussion resource summarizing different beliefs and actions relating to racism and sexism in antebellum America.

For the best understanding of the experience of slavery and what it did both to black and to white people, I recommend American Slave Narratives and other first-hand accounts such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and the writings of Harriet TubmanAbolitionist writings are also worth a look.

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12 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
fabricdragon From: fabricdragon Date: January 6th, 2012 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
i think its well written and very true
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 6th, 2012 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad to hear that. Writing about difficult subjects is always a challenge but I think it's worthwhile. Feedback really helps in instances like this.
From: rowangolightly Date: January 6th, 2012 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well done, indeed. I think a lot of the "woo-woo" events of the time were, if you'll pardon the phrase, white-washed due to the pervasive Christianity of historians who've covered the subject.

OT, but I wanted to share this with you. It reminded me of that artwork you linked to a couple weeks ago of the strong woman warrior. This is very cool!
http://www.themarysue.com/art-nouveau-mass-effect/
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 9th, 2012 05:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Well done, indeed.<<

I'm glad you like it.

>> I think a lot of the "woo-woo" events of the time were, if you'll pardon the phrase, white-washed due to the pervasive Christianity of historians who've covered the subject. <<

That fits my observation. Though I did once see a documentary of a dig where they unearthed such an artifact under the ruins of a plantation manor. Everybody else is all, "Oh, what's this thing?" -- and the black folks jump back.

>>OT, but I wanted to share this with you. It reminded me of that artwork you linked to a couple weeks ago of the strong woman warrior. <<

Awesome art, thanks for sharing!
From: rowangolightly Date: January 9th, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

You bet! I thought of you the moment I saw those.

Yes, that's definitely a case of "fools rushing in" and a big dose of cultural arrogance, it seems.
unmutual From: unmutual Date: January 6th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well done!
whuffle From: whuffle Date: January 6th, 2012 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh wow. Powerful imagery expertly executed.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I appreciate that.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: January 6th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a very powerful piece. I especially liked the use of dialect enforce the context of the poem.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 09:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad this worked for you.

I pay very close attention to voice in poetry. If you look closely, you can see a lot of different speech mannerisms across my various poems; those changes in vocabulary, phrasing, pronunciation, etc. help convey information about the characters' background. My grasp of Southern American comes both from personal experience -- my mother's people come from Tennessee -- and from outside gatherings via books and movies, etc.

my_partner_doug pointed out that it shifts subtly between the characters, and I think he's right. So then I had to stop and think about who the third-person 'narrator' would be in this piece, and I realized that it's kind of a collective social observation from the surrounding community. I was reminded of a saying: "The Mistress is always ready to tell who the daddy is of all the little pickaninnies on every farm but her own. Those, she seems to think fall from the sky." People did talk about this kind of thing, but usually behind their hands.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: January 11th, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Yes, I sort of got the idea that the voice was sort of general outside observation.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 12th, 2012 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

That's helpful to know, thanks.
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