Only the Seasons Change

Edith McGowan

 

You could always count us on one hand.
As usual I dressed with care,
saved two seats per high command,
my coat and pocketbook in their chairs.

The back room was small,
piped in music set-up for exactly forty people—
four rows of black linens, tables sat cheek by jowl.
Those used to privilege complained steadily, bitterly.

Tinny taps on water glasses to quiet the din.
Perfumes, colognes cloyed the night
as the lecturer went on too long, again.
When he finally came to an end,

I craned my neck, but no I hadn’t missed anybody—
only us three blacks in the room of forty.

 

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About the author:

Edith McGowan’s work has been published in U.S. 1 Newspaper Summer Fiction Issue three times and U.S. 1 Worksheets 2018. She attends several poetry workshops. Edith is retired and lives in Princeton Junction, NJ

 

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Model Apartment

Marion Pollack

 

“You have to clean the toilet today, Marion.”

“Why me, I’m the worst at it and I hate it the most.”

“Tough cookies, Marion. It’s your turn. You can’t get out of it this time.”

 

At P.S. 36, the Bronx, as in every other junior high school in all the boroughs of New York City, girls in 8th grade had to take a class called Apartment. In the 1950’s we had to participate in this as part of a three segment series that included cooking and sewing. The boys had shop all year.

The wicked old maid marm who taught the class had a wiry hair coming out of the mole on her chin. She was always dressed in black and was anorexically thin. This woman promised to prepare us for marriage.

This was accomplished by teaching us all the intricacies of cleaning an apartment. It included lessons on the importance of cleanliness and the joys of neatness. I don’t know how this teacher was able to dirty the apartment for each class meeting, but it was always a filthy mess, the bathroom especially grimy.

Of the three segments, I liked cooking class best. I especially loved putting huge globs of mayonnaise in the tuna fish, egg salad and green jello molds. None of which I ever had at home. The aroma of delicious chocolate chip cookies was followed by stuffing as many as we could into our mouths before the bell rang.

“Those are my cookies, I know the ones I baked.”

“Yeah, yours all have weird shapes.”

“Now girls, they all taste delicious.”

I loved the little mandarin oranges peeking out of cool whip ambrosia. We hated cleaning up there too, but we giggled hysterically as we all pitched in. Not so when it came to Apartment.

The struggle to master the treadle sewing machine was almost as bad. Thread kept getting stuck and stitching was always crooked. It was impossible to get the rhythm of your feet on the treadle and the push pull of the wheel all at the same time. We had to make jumpers in preparation for making our own graduation dresses. Mine was a, not too ugly, green waffle patterned cotton which hung crookedly, with lumpy pockets and twisted bodice. My girlfriends and I decided to wear our jumpers all on the same day and suffered the raucous laughter of the boys.

When it came to the graduation dress I was at a complete loss. Mom bought me a few yards of beautiful white piquet material and helped cut out the pattern. The actual sewing was another thing entirely. I ended up with a torn, gathered up mess. Fortunately, when I came home crying, my mother took me and the dress upstairs to 5B to Mrs. Becker, the seamstress. At times like this I really appreciated living in our apartment in Parkchester. Our building held the wonders and talents of a hundred people.

“Oh boy, this is quite a challenge. But don’t worry, I can fix it.”

She tore the dress apart, pinned me up with what was left of the soft white cloth. In two days she made me a lovely, capped sleeved graduation dress. I proudly wore it on graduation day with several crinolines and felt gorgeous.

Back to the Apartment.

In the beginning I had no idea what “Apartment” was. It was in the basement of the building down a dark sinister hallway. It had an old dingy door which creaked when it opened. We were always frightened to enter, tiptoeing in the dim light. You were assigned to “Apartment” with nine other girls in order to learn how to clean house, not to mention ironing and proper dress.

On the first day we were given a lecture by our old, stiff necked teacher about how important it was, when dressing, to put your skirt on first and then your freshly ironed blouse, which had been on a hanger. After the skirt was on you could undo it and tuck in the blouse very carefully. We were all choking and gagging to squelch our laughter. A demerit here could mean detention.

I am dying to know if the curriculum was exactly the same in as far away as Brooklyn.

Each time we met in “Apartment” we had to decide among the group who would team up for kitchen, bedrooms (hospital corners), living room, closets and bathroom. Who would Hoover and who would dust. Somehow there were always old clothes in the closets and dirty dishes in the sink. Did someone actually live here?

You never wanted to get the bathroom with its rusty faucets and  rank odor.  In the corner stood a plunger to be used every time, for the stuffed toilet, bathtub and sink. Why were there always wads of hair stuck in the drains? Who actually used this bathroom? An old gray mop was used with Ajax cleanser for the floor.

Lucky for me I had one good chubby little friend who I could bribe to do my bathroom duty.

“Sandy, if you do it today, I will take you to the candy store after school.”

“I don’t know Marion, you only got me an egg cream, a pretzel and three marshmallow twists last time.”

“How about I add to that four chocolate jelly rings and a coffee ice cream cone.” I calculated it would all come to fifteen cents. So worth it.

“Ok, Marion, but don’t ask me ever again, or else I’ll tell on you.”

 

We have come a long way, baby! Can you imagine our daughters ever actually taking a course in house cleaning? It is, of course, obvious that they haven’t.

It makes me feel very old to think that we were segregated and subjugated in that way without complaining. We did have an inkling that this was ridiculous, causing lots of joking and laughter.

We wondered too, what went on in the awesome, brightly lit wood shop where the boys made birdhouses and bookshelves, and sometimes came away with bloodied fingers. They would show their wooden objects and war wounds with pride. We never even thought to even ask if we could try it.

 

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About the author:

Marion Pollack is a memoir and poetry writer. She is a therapist at Aroga Behavioral Health. Marion lives in Lawrenceville, NJ with her husband Bob. She has two grown children and six grandchildren.

 

Apparently Invisible

Ayesha Sultana

 

Look how she’s oppressed and abused
Stuck behind walls how could she refuse
Smothered in the heat, not at all amused

The poor thing silent and ugly
Left without a voice after being treated so roughly
Left without a choice
A weak terrorist acting toughly

A stain in the crowd, a menace to society
Look how she smiles horridly
What plot is she scheming as she passes so calmly

It seems as though Halloween must’ve come a little early
As the children scream monster and point horrifyingly
Adults burst with laughter or anger as they glare accusingly

Demonized by the very journalists who were supposed to show sympathy
Reveal the truth and leave aside all mockery
But they used freedom of expression to spew hatred and agony
When it was only supposed to be used for spreading compassion in humanity

She’s right there but they can’t see
Not because of the veil she wears but because of the ignorance they adopted blindly
Refusing to question, or hear her side of the story
Dumbfounded when she speaks, that’s not her voice in reality!
She is supposed to be silent so her voice is just imaginary
Warned about her kind in the news so she is more than what she seems apparently
It’s only a lie, look how she tries to prove otherwise so cunningly

It’s the 21st-century, must she be so backward?
Publishing fake stories claiming to free the caged bird
Only harming humanity in the name of moving forward
Too headstrong to check for facts
Too brave of a coward

It’s not your fault, forgive me, I’m sorry
Apologies for not being there to explain
When the media bashed my cause with disdain
I forgive them for the animosity they could not contain
And from the fear-mongering from which they could not refrain
I’m sorry you had to hear everything that was wrong
And took it to heart as you sweared at me but for God, I stayed strong
I made excuses for you because it’s not your fault
I’m sorry you were fed with lies that surrounded you like a vault

You couldn’t escape what you were surrounded by,
As your glares dug deep, though I know you didn’t try
Like innocent lambs, you conformed to the news of the wolves and silently you stood
As she was stabbed to death and her scarf portrayed red riding hood
In a world screaming for justice how sad was her fate
But the continuous ignorance is an even sadder state

The very platforms that were supposed to raise awareness against hate crimes made them go viral
Now many hide their faith only for survival
Like Aasiyah (Upon her be peace), the true believing wife of Pharaoh
Who rescued baby Moses (Peace be upon him)
Her life was an example
As she stood up for the truth and refused to be trampled

I hold no grudges nor do I blame
I speak for every woman who chose modesty as her name
Who chose to let her intellect speak before her body
Who decided to break free from the immoral shackles of society
And live a life that was inspiring and Godly

Let go of the false notions I plead
In a dark world, only the enlightened one will succeed
Ignorance is truly the greatest cancer
Just walk up to her and ask her
So respectfully she will give you an answer
That will free your tortured heart from its anger
And perhaps save another life in danger
Another beautiful stranger

I will stand with you to condemn, mourn, and share the pain
I refuse to apologize for every demon who uses my name
Who uses Islam to shame and defame
A plague on the earth about whom our Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) warned and prophesied
Informing that he who stands against them would have surely done a great deed
Your concern is mine so please take heed
And every time evil things on the news you read
Just remember, that we share the same needs

Believe me or not I wear this veil independently
To preserve my dignity
For my God loves a modest lady
Those who follow in the footsteps of Mary (Upon her be peace)
The mother of Jesus (Peace be upon him),
They tried to tear her to pieces
Attacking her chastity
While she was the pinnacle of piety

Khadeejah (May God be pleased with her), the wife of Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him), the epitome of faith and loyalty,
A lady of nobility
Beautiful and brave she sacrificed everything she had for God willingly

Fatima (May God be pleased with her) daughter of Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) who gave precedence to others over her own life
She remained patient and grateful through every strife
The perfect daughter the perfect wife
She donated her only bread for the next beggar at the door
And she continued to give every time she received more

Women so beautiful and selfless
A reminder for those so selfish
Women remembered for their beauty but whose actions made the world prouder
So applaud them and the through your actions applaud louder

Now Forgive me if I chose role models who were not plastic
Over airbrushed models with lifestyles so drastic
Whose actions and features weren’t edited and painted
Pioneers of women’s rights
Pushed behind the unrealistic models that are tainted
And teen prodigies who forced girls to conform to body images that out of starvation they fainted

Accept me for who I am and not for what you’ve seen on the news
So what if it hits one billion views!
The millions watching a movie doesn’t make it real
Hear my story from me, for I endure and I feel
I will never be defined by the expectations of society
For I will always give the Lord priority

Empowered to spread light even in the bleakest of times
He granted me freedom to live as I choose in a world that’s not even mine!
I hope that my message will not go in vain
And as I continue to speak up for all those in pain
I pray my determination will never wane

Let the world hear
My voice so loud and clear
That I am free
This is me

 

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About the author:

Ayesha Sultana wrote her poem as an autobiographical spoken word piece based on her own real-life experiences growing up as a veiled Muslim woman in the United States. The poem is meant to raise awareness about the false images and misconstrued ideas that surround Muslim women and their roles in Islam. This is the full-length version of the poem, and a condensed version of the poem was published in the print edition of Kelsey Review 37.