Five Prose Poems by Denise Duhamel

Cultural Regression (A Pantoum Prose Poem)

Once upon a time there was elaborate plumbing, then people started shitting in the woods again. Once we worshipped goddesses who bore children—now we want mothers back to work in twelve weeks.

People stopped shitting in the woods and instead fouled the rivers and ponds, where mothers of twelve worked, scrubbing laundry. Time after time, utopia makes a u-turn.

Along the fouled overfished oceans, hermit crabs scramble in tin cans. No shells left for them. Time after time, progress makes a u-turn, from World War II “bomb girls” to Bangladesh sweatshops.

Gloria Steinem wore bunny ears instead of a turtleneck to infiltrate the Playboy Club—no glamour behind the false eyelashes of that harassment sweatshop. But forty years later The Girls Next Door is a hit on E!

Everyone knows Hefner tested his bunnies for VD and Martin Luther King had his dream. So why is The Girls Next Door a hit? Why is Porsha Williams on The Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Martin Luther King has his dream, then is shot, Hosea Williams by his side. Now Hosea’s granddaughter is a “real housewife” after working as a video vixen.

Hosea Williams was tear-gassed on his march to Selma and, fifty years later, Michael Brown is shot in Ferguson. Because so many women aspire to be video vixens, Pink records her hit “Stupid Girls.”

Before Michael Brown is shot in Ferguson, Trayvon Martin and Emmet Till made the same sad history. Pink sings her hit “Stupid Girls.” 50 Cent sings, “Have a baby by me, baby! Be a millionaire.”

Trayvon Martin and Emmet Till made the same sad history, their mothers’ grief redirecting the rest of their lives, far from “Have a baby by me, baby! Be a millionaire.” Or Paul Anka’s “What a lovely way of saying how much you love me.”

Before babies directed the rest of their mothers’ lives, we worshipped goddesses who bore children. Each pregnancy was magic, a lovely way, until we understood the role of sperm, a man’s elaborate plumbing.

Political Satire

My husband thinks I’m a dirty old woman!

Sure, I’m sympathetic. I’ve sat through Masculinism 101. Intellectually I get why he feels threatened. How could I not? Masculinism is all he and the other husbands talk about.

And, OK, fair enough. Maybe it’s not enlightened to see men primarily as “providers.” But you can’t stop a woman’s biology. She wants what she wants, and there’s nothing you (or she!) can do to change that.

Sure, I feel bad—while looking for Junior’s pacifier in my purse, my husband found the matchbook for Provide: The Gentelwomen’s Fantasy Club. The hunky guy on the cover makes him flinch. I tried to snatch it out of his hand before he read message inside: If you desire strapping world-class men and lots of them, then Provide is for you We feature hundreds of the nation’s most stable entertainers! They are ready to fulfill your every fantasy!

My husband wants to have “the talk.” (Yawn!) I admit to him—I’m a regular. The men on stage swing briefcases full of money—McMansions with his-and-her Jaguars parked in the driveway projected on the screen behind them.

My husband starts to tear up. I hate when he does this. He wants to know why his love isn’t enough.

The entertainers are paid to say they are hot only for me, the “wife,” i.e. the one out with her friends for the night. In the VIP lounge, I buy a “romance dance.” My stud brings me flowers, rubs my back, tells me I’m as beautiful as the day I first caught his glance.

My husband blows his nose. He wants to know how on earth he can compete with that.

I don’t tell him that JoAnn is the real perv—she orders one-on-one cuddling, foot massages, and “active listening.”

The man Sarah hires reads her a poem he wrote himself and assures her everything’s all right—with their relationship, with the natural environment, with the funds for the kids’ college tuition. Where do she want to go on vacation this summer? Hawaii? Block Island? Sarah giggles. He notices she’s changed her hair—he says he loves it.

My husband is in a snit. He turns on the game, the thunderous volume pulsating through the house. I’m a good wife so I reassure him—though, between you and me, he’s becoming a bit of a drag. Calm down, I say, Look, you provide too. This need I have has nothing to do with you. Think of it this way—you’re lucky. Your wife is a bona fide hot-blooded American woman.

Comedy of Manners

In The Importance of Being Weiner, a white middle-aged Oscar texts pictures of hotdogs to young women he meets online. Most of the women ignore him, but some find it funny and text back pictures of melons or figs. At that point, Oscar texts a picture of a bun.

In person, he is a bit shy, so when he sets up a meeting with a woman, he usually suggests a picnic to which he brings jerk pork, Fluffernutters, and a couple of Ding Dongs for dessert. This menu ensures double entendres.

If all goes well, and there is a second date, Oscar usually tells his anecdote about Alexander Graham Bell who likened his own penis to “a pink toadstool.” If the woman laughs and shares a quote of her own—let’s say, Dolly Parton’s “I have small feet because nothing grows in the shade”—Oscar then tells of his out-of-control brother Weiner.

The woman is usually horrified, of course.  A married man sexting naked pictures of himself wrapped in a towel? Or his actual member? Plus he’s a politician?

“Gross,” one woman says after the other.

“I know,” Oscar says, “but he is my brother.”

Once Oscar and a woman get intimate—which, for him, means having actual sex—he grows bored, ready to move onto the next.

“I’ll be gone a few days,” Oscar says, which signals the end of the relationship.  “Weiner’s gotten himself into trouble again.  And it’s always up to me to bail him out.”


Once I ran into a glass door, a slider as my aunt called it, which led to a cement deck and a built-in pool. She was such a meticulous housekeeper—more than once I had taken a tumble on her waxed hardwood hallway floor. She must have washed the windows that morning. My nose bled, thicker than the blood from other cuts, and the drops were warm as they hit my bare foot. The thud of my body alerted my mother and my aunt, who were outside, a pink umbrella in my mother’s drink, an aqua bathing cap with a strap under my aunt’s chin. Somehow the door was locked from the inside. My aunt gave me directions as I fumbled. The men were already in the pool. I saw my sister rise atop my father’s shoulders.

My mother apologized as my aunt filled a plaid ice bag. The metal trays creaked and crackled. My mother sopped up the floor with a wet paper towel. She Windexed away the smudge I had made on the glass. I lay on a lounge chair, my shame behind plastic sunglasses, the ice bag cold on my nose while the rest of me burned.

The Argument

Your friend once told you that women are more jealous than men because it is in our DNA. That a cavewoman was in danger of being eaten by an animal if her caveman didn’t watch over her. 

His roving eye could cost her life.

Tonight he made an ass of himself, delighted by the hostess and her cleavage. When you get home, you loosen your husband’s long blue tie and he unclasps your Wilma Flintstone necklace.

Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry Scald is forthcoming from University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis, 1997). She and Maureen Seaton co-authored CAPRICE: Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). Duhamel is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenhiem Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

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