Introduction to Patriarchy
by Chelsea Rathburn
For a while we found them everywhere we looked,
tucked in our brothers’ closets or slipped inside
our fathers’ attachés: carousels
of airbrushed women with rumpled curls
wearing sweaters or raincoats or negligees
or nothing but shoes. (Their feet were never bare.)
Bedecked in stockings and heels as tall as stilts,
they seemed as though they always had to grab
ahold of something strong—a doorframe, say,
or a fire hose—or lean across a bed
to keep from toppling. Top-heavy, lips wet,
one arm lifted or crossed, they waited for us.
Side by side, our bodies hairless, all lines
and sharp angles, we studied their proportions.
We read about their favorite centuries
(The 20th, because women can finally
pursue their own individuality
and potential!) and ideal men, and memorized
their vague ambitions. Ranking their parts, we fought
over who got to be Miss October
or Miss April when we played—what was the game?
It can’t be called dress-up if we undressed.
Instead of doctors or astronauts, we channeled
waitresses in a topless bar. We practiced
carrying trays and looking vacant or surprised.
When our big breaks came, we posed for centerfolds,
eager to please the invisible camera.
We leaned against the wall or dropped to our hands
and knees, our smiles fixed, until our fathers’
voices sent us fumbling for our clothes.
“Introduction to Patriarchy,” from STILL LIFE WITH MOTHER AND KNIFE by Chelsea Rathburn. Copyright © 2019 by Chelsea Rathburn. Used by permission of Louisiana State University Press.