As a child, I listened to chickadees and thought,
Enough. You’ve made your point.
That was before I realized their intentions, their genius,
the audacity of being shrill in the morning calm
first in trills then staccato to herald your rage and go barreling
into the day, to make everyone unsure whether you are thrilled or furious,
and I have always been both.
It’s bad form to say the word shrill
when you’re talking about women and women’s voices
and women’s vices, but it’s the place where my speeches live
every principled stance, the rickety soapbox ravings
that my friends pretend are both new and warranted.
In kindergarten, I was told to stop writing in all capital letters
and to never use pen, but I wanted to match my tone,
the serial heckler, a manic maenad shrieking in the drunken background,
the girl who still yells boo and I am forever shouting on high
in an accent, which, like me, cannot be placed.
Sometimes I’m a scholar in sardonic default,
an irate jaywalker, a loud femme at the bar
asking for top shelf.
There are women I’ve known forever
their voices are deeper than I recall.
They all took to smoking cigarettes,
the vice that wouldn’t love me back,
and now they all sound like good espresso
and residual eyeliner. It’s the rasp, the countershrill,
and sometimes I think I have it, but mostly
it’s mucus after a bad cold and for all my screeching
and gritted teeth and belabored points, somewhere,
someone is reading this message and missing my voice
because if nothing else, I know damn well how to leave
an impression. No one hears me and feels neutral.
My mom called me her howler monkey,
an infant orator screeching from a crib
hands through the bars, demanding an audience.
(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 36)