Alice Paul

Death due to a massive stroke.
Born: January 11, 1885
Died: July 9, 1977

For Hillary Clinton, less than two weeks before Election Day, 2016.

Sometimes I still feel it,
deep inside me…
that dull and gnawing ache.
I’ve come to think of it as a friend.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hello, Hunger, my old pal.
How are you?”
Sometimes, it even gurgles some inaudible reply.
“I’d feed you, my friend,
but I’m waiting.”
Hunger is an open wound.
It is a weed in your garden,
a red wine stain on white linen.
But just like we did with everything else,
we insisted.
We closed our mouths,
we wretched our stomachs,
we watched each other waste away.
We insisted.
We marched.
We shouted.
And when we had to, we fought.
Again and again until our voices were so tired they’d left us entirely
we insisted that we deserved the right–
the same right–
as all of them!
Whatever it took,
however we could,
we insisted!
There might have been explosions.
There might have been injuries.
There might have been damage to…
to shops
and houses
and mailboxes
but shops and houses and mailboxes aren’t lives and their laws–
their suppression was damaging our lives.
Our spirits.
I remember the first time I saw Inez all in white.
She was on top of a horse,
leading us all down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I’d seen her a hundred times before.
A thousand!
But not like this, never all in white.
It was like seeing our spirits return,
all of them,
rising up to lead us past the jeers to be shouted,
and the rocks to be slung
and the beatings to come.
I stopped flinching a long time ago.
Because I got so used to the whip of their tongue and the blow of their hand.
“I’d feed you,” I would say to my hunger,
“but I’m waiting.”
There was a night in Occuquan–
so many they’ve all blurred together–
but there was a night so filled with screams my ears still ring.
They’d finally managed to make us Silent Sentinels sing
and I had to listen while they saved me for last.
I always wondered if they somehow knew I’d survive.
After all,
I’d survived so many times before.
Lucy Burns was black and blue all over before they left her chained to the bars of her cell and forced her to watch them smash in Dora’s pretty head.
Then there was Alice Cosu and her poor tired, heart–
that big, giant muscle…
They managed to stop it from beating.
And what about sweet Inez Milholland,
the one who made our spirits soar above Pennsylvania Avenue?
Oh, they drenched her in crimson.
And then they came for me.
The next morning,
through two eyes nearly swollen shut,
I refused breakfast.
I was so bloody and bruised I suppose they assumed I simply had no appetite.
But lunch passed me by.
Dinner, too.
The next breakfast, the next lunch, the next dinner,
and the breakfast after that and the lunch after that until they started to notice–
to question!
“Why aren’t you eating?”, the guards would grumble.
“I’m waiting.”
And soon Dora was waiting, too.
And Inez.
And Lucy and Mary and Lizzie and Beth and all the others,.
“We’re waiting,” we’d say,
together and apart,
as we’d watch them take our plates of mush away.
The fight would sustain us.
Oh, they’d prefer you to believe it was the tubes and the chicken fat they poured down our throats.
And not just the chicken fat, no,
there was the spoiled milk and uncooked eggs,
whatever liquid protein they could force inside of us.
But every meal, every day, we insisted.
One by one,
we’d look at our plate and shake our heads.
“I’m waiting.”
The men got off on using their nightsticks
or hosing us down with the water turned up, strong as they could make it.
Hard to believe the same thing that baptizes you can welt you
but it’s true.
The women, though,
the ones who looked like us and sounded like us but were perfectly content hiding in their shells from the world, from their responsibilities, from their own voices–
they were the ones who seemed to enjoy it the most.
Perhaps it was how they learned to suppress their own anger and quiet the voice of desire.
Or maybe it was just a disgust with our expectations.
Whatever the reason,
their wicked smiles left an imprint on my mind as eternal as horseback Inez.
Except for one.
The woman who held me down as the doctor forced God knows what down my throat…
She had green eyes, I remember,
and a little scatter of freckles at the top of her cheeks,
just below two dark rings around her evergreen eyes.
She pleaded with me as the doctor prepared his torture,
“For your children’s sake, Miss Paul…”
But I didn’t have any.
“And your husband’s.”
But I wasn’t married.
“Then what about you?
For your own sake–”
But I just shook my head.
“Why? Why won’t you eat?”, she asked.
Or was it begging?
Because I remember watching tears fall from those two green eyes…
Was she begging?
Either way, I just said,
“I’m waiting”,
as the doctor approached.
Whenever I feel it,
that dull and gnawing ache,
whenever my old friend Hunger comes to say hello and we converse,
I’m reminded to look at the time and the date and the headlines.
Because as long as I’m here waiting,
that hunger isn’t going anywhere.
Hunger and desire are a lot like.
Because when you desire something so much that you are willing to let it destroy you,
it eats away at your insides,
just like that dull and gnawing ache called Hunger.
“Hello,” I say.
“How are you?”
I imagine it across the room–
my Hunger–
dressed all in white and straddling that enormous horse.
“I’m hungry,”
she tells me.
“I’d feed you, my friend,
but I’m waiting.”
“For what?”
she asks.
“A million things!”
“But what if you could only pick one, Alice?”
There was a night in 1917 when I broke a window.
I raised a brick high as my arm would let me and with all my might, I watched a jeweler’s window shatter into a million pieces.
“There are ceilings, Inez.
Not just windows, but ceilings!”
My hunger just gurgles some inaudible reply, though, as that Pennsylvania Avenue vision becomes a hazy mist
and I just stand here insisting,
“I am waiting…
I am waiting.”


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