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Admission Process

June 16, 2011

by Louisa Howerow

suffragette prisoners, 3rd division, Holloway Gaol, 1912

What can I do, but undress
with the others? Naked I wait
for a chemise. The officer

bundles my clothes, thrusts them
on a shelf. I, who was so quick
to speak, stand barefoot,

arms raised, while she prods,
picks through my hair. Do I
keep my hand from slapping?

 

The doctor who pretends to examine me
slides his stethoscope across my chemise.
The ear pieces dangle between us.

“Are you all right?”
He speaks to my chest.
What is all right? My heartbeats, breaths

miraculously haven’t reached him. He doesn’t ask
to check my tongue, my throat.
The wardress pushes me on and I miss answering.

A dozen more women wait in the queue.
The first one he looks at will change him to stone.

 

My cell walls are greased with dankness.
Stench lies in my bed. Above me,
a pane of rippled glass, snatched light.

Because I can read, do sums, sign my name,
I’m granted a bible, a hymnal, a tract
wherein a Mrs. Stacpoole dispenses advice:

take daily baths
sleep with windows open
avoid bad smells


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Louisa Howerow’s most recent poetry appeared in FreeFall, The Nashwaak Review and Room. This poem is part of a manuscript that gives voice to the rank and file members of the British suffragette movement. Two of the poems in this collection appeared in The New Quarterly, guest edited by Diane Schoemperlen. Another poem in a slightly altered version was published in Room.

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  1. Barbara LaMorticella
    June 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Power here through clarity, detail. A fine poem.

  2. June 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    The irony of the poem struck me as more of defiance than fear, or loathing. Good work.

  3. June 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Wonderful to hear your voice, Louisa! I remember this one, as well as many other suffragette poems, from our critique group–can’t wait for them to be printed as a book.
    Scott Wiggerman

  4. Penelope Scambly Schott
    June 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I’ve always been fascinated by the suffragettes, and I appreciate this vivid picture.

  5. June 21, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Wonderful poem — you bring the history to life.

  6. Rosemary Starace
    June 22, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Good work, Louisa: taut, clear, and moving. Read well, too. And so nice to finally hear your voice after all these years!

  7. Louisa Howerow
    June 22, 2011 at 10:43 am

    To all who read and and to all who responded

    Thank you so much : )

    Louisa

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