The Knife Woman
after Louise Bourgeois’s Femme-Couteau (1969-70)
On a bad day she feels the ache
of having been,
as if she’s become a phantom limb.
Then it starts, serrated wave
everything dangerous, bladed:
the keen edge of a stair,
a pill bottle’s rim,
her plane about to go down
behind enemy lines
or into a wilderness
in which ready, set,
even the arrows of trees
are taking their aim.
What she needs is a survival knife,
but missing this,
she thinks of the sea star
in extremis, a creature
that can regrow an arm,
and the sculptor
who, nearly done for,
carves a likeness
out of marble
to sheathe herself.
The Good Mother
after a digital print with fabric collage (2007) by Louise Bourgeois
They’re all here, the women she’s come from,
although the artist named the Good Mother alone.
See through gossamer thin as a scrim
her ghostly House Woman, Knife Woman,
even a reckless, youthful Athena at her loom
beating the weft into a shield and a spear, helmet,
then breastplate. I dare you! she shrieks,
to which, weaving faster, Arachne answers
for all the victims of tricksters, for those lusted after.
Beware the bull, the swan. A shower of coins.
At what cost do we make art?
you might wonder, knowing Arachne, the contest’s winner
and loser, came close to putting her head in a noose.
But see, hanging here, upon linen
how indelibly she imprinted herself: the spider
the woman Arachne became. The mother. Us.
after Louise Bourgeois’s Spiral Women (1951-1952)
Insomniac, she tosses, turns every which way
in her sheets, she can’t stop spinning inside
where voices entangle, one son’s with another’s,
her father’s bass,
mother’s countervailing treble. Ne te dépêche pas!
someone cautions, but still she hurries, turning
tapestries over and over in the tannin-rich river
before, tightly, tighter, she squeezes all the water she can
from the wool.
Spiral women, she calls the figures in her studio,
the ones she’s shaped to revolve in the wind
the casement lets in.
Some nights she’d swear she overhears them whisper
of wringing the neck of someone who’s wronged them.
Or is it
the workers in her mother’s atelier, the weavers
she heard as a girl sharing the secrets of their art?
How they interlaced
indigo with rose madder from their unraveling skeins,
salvaging remnants of battles lost and won, scraps
of forest or garden
to create a whole cloth out of what was in pieces.
Allison Funk is the author of five books of poems, including her most recent, Wonder Rooms, from Free Verse Editions in 2015. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as awards from the Poetry Foundation (Chicago), the Poetry Society of America, and the Society of Midland Authors. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry; Poetry; the Paris Review; and the Cincinnati Review, among other publications. She is Professor Emerita at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.