Issue 29 – 2018 – Allison Funk

Allison Funk

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
           after 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.


Spiral Woman

after Louise Bourgeois’s Spiral Women (1951-1952)


Insomniac, she tosses, turns every which way
                      until wound
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
                      the damaged
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.