Two inspirations for this piece: first, a spark of an idea while in a car with my father. I was an adult, not a kid, but I can't remember where we were going or even exactly how long ago this was. When I said something about mowing a lawn, he chuckled and replied, "You can't do that!" I called him on it and he backed down. I reflected on the gendered ways in which my brothers and I had been raised, but didn't write a poem at the time.
Years later, I read Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl, by Susan Campbell, and the poem fell into place in my head. I messed around with it for years before sending it to The Midwest Quarterly, and I'm so grateful they published it.
Growing Up in Dad's House of Can't
You can't weed the garden in that sun:
you'll ruin your skin. You can't
mow the lawn or take out the trash:
it's men's work. You can't
go to the hardware store: it's dirty,
like the boys in college—you can't do that either.
But here, hon, plant yourself
by me and let me tell you:
You can grow in this good place,
grounded in the Lord, and in the way
of women, forgiven. Be soft and silent,
like the summer grass smooths underfoot,
and catch a Godly man, have his babies.
You can teach them in the Sunday School room,
where the air conditioner hums,
where little girls are pink peonies,
rooted in the Berber carpet,
waiting for their watering.
Published in The Midwest Quarterly, Summer 2021, Volume 62, No. 4.