An Argument with Semonides* on His ‘Types of Women’
*Greek poet circa 7th century BCE who described women negatively in terms of a sow, a fox, a dog, a donkey, a weasel, a horse, an ape, a bee, the sea, and mud.
In Memory of Dr. Cherie Haeger
1. Priscilla: The Pig
The one you call a bristly sow, rumpled
and mud-caked, she's piggy, but not piggish.
Refined, she saunters on two toes and never
breaks a sweat. Whistle-clean and clever, she
counts and nestles her squirming farrow,
raises the gate arm with her flat snout when
she wants out. At a Texas lake, she swam
to save a boy from drowning. Life pig.
Radiant rescuer. A divine swine.
2. Violet: The Fox
Far from fickle, this fox. She knows her mind
and speaks it well: she barks alarm to warn
her cubs, she howls and yips and wails; she lures
her mate and charms her prey. Her bushy tail
flutters its violet scent on grassy fields
and stones, each spot sweet and fluorescent,
distinctly hers. You say that nothing evil
eludes her, and yet you wonder why you
don't see her. Silly man. She's quick. Foxy.
She hides from you without uttering a sound.
3. Zoë: The Dog
A busybody, you say—her doggy
muzzle into everything, incessant
yapping your stone thrown at her teeth
cannot dissuade. Doggone man! She's a canine
wonder: sniffing out crime and drugs; seeing
for the blind, hearing for the deaf; herding
and tracking; guarding your treasures. Her ears
twitch at what you fail to hear—an acorn
plunking in the snow, the screen popping off
the hinge in the cellar, a child whimpering
under the rubble. She loves you anyway,
her tail wagging when you speak, her tongue
bathing your face with drool, a joyful baptism.
4. Terra: The Sod
She's the soil, the tender skin that wraps
the earth in clay and gritty silt, whose lush
loam cradles the seeds and pushes the stems
toward light. She quiets the cicadas, nudges
the grubs and worms. She's the mud you squeeze
between your toes, the granite you gouge
with an axe. She's the glacier that fills
your well, the lava surging to consume you.
5. Meriel: The Sea
She flirts with you standing on the shore,
lapping your feet with her cold, salty tongue.
She seduces you with her glassy swells,
her plunging breakers, wave tips curling over
a foaming tunnel. You want her. You want
to ride her, to glide into the glassy barrel
at the alchemy hour, to carve a clean line
down the watery wall, but you cannot
fathom her depth or her wind-whipped turns,
and she hammers you, locks you inside, pounds
you to the bottom, rag-dolled, eating sand.
You kick to the surface, gasping for air
in the chop, paddle out for another set.
6. Jenny: The Donkey
Equus asinus. She's the one with long
fleecy ears and a tasseled tail. Hardy
and sure-footed. She balks at the briars
and the bobcat in the brush. She brays, deep
and brassy, when you beat her with a stick.
On her dun coat, two stripes intersect
in a cross. She's the one that saw the angel
with drawn sword, the one God spoke through.
She's the one He chose to ride, her humble
hooves clomping over cloaks spread on the road.
7. Wanda: The Weasel
Her weaselly ways keep her white against
the snow and brown against the summer dirt.
Small and wary, both hunter and hunted,
she flashes through the honeysuckle thicket,
zigzags from bush to rock to mouse hole,
then slinks inside for the sure kill. Watch her
dancing for you—hopping left then left again
in a musky cloud, back arched, long tail frizzed,
twittering her victory song: your best mouser.
8. Winifred: The Horse
Among the livestock, He chose to make beauty
first, this one white, her mane flowing and forelock
whispering across her eyes like a veil. She stands
in the field, muscles taut, chewing on tufts
of grass with flat teeth, and when you startle
her with a whip, she snorts and rears up, bolts
from your brutal touch, hind legs thrusting her
forward, then up, and in an instant she's
galloping, airborne. Be gentle with her.
She hauls stone and timber. She bounds over
sand with love notes and death-bed regrets,
and charges into blood-soaked fields. She writes
history—she will carry her rider, called
Faithful and True, blazing into the end of it.
9. Gerta: The Ape
She's the one with nimble hands: your sister,
your mother, your great, great aunt who watches
you with her small eyes and echoes your grunts
and wails with feigned interest. She ambles
to the ridge, yanks thistles and grains of paradise
from the mud, tossing the purple petals
over her head and stuffing the peppery seeds
in her mouth. She pauses at the whimper
carried by a gust, then gauges the creek's
depth with a stick. On the other side, she
scoops up the child, cradles him to her heart
and sets him on safe ground. The lion will live
with the lamb, but the ape lives with the goat.
10. Deborah: The Bee
She is your four-winged miracle, tapping
the delicate throats of purple foxglove
and forget-me-nots, flitting her sweet musk
from blossom to hive and back again.
You toss your hoe in the weeds, suddenly
ravenous, hefting your bulk into a trot,
then a run as you think of honey dripping
off the combs into your mouth, down
your bristled chin, softening the calluses
on your hands as you lick it off. You dash
from poplar to oak, climbing one and shaking
the other until you find it—the swarm
guarding its holy tree, a buzzing cloud
of furious women, workers and warriors,
bustling to protect their brood, their gold.
Trudge home, old man, where you'll find your house
swept clean, your vineyard planted, your children
dressed in scarlet, and your honey-pot full.
There you'll find her, worth more than rubies,
her prickly words sweeter to you than honey.