I love to read butch and femme poetry, it’s not easy to find, but it’s out there. This beautiful poem from Cheryl Clarke takes me back in history, to the hard times butches and femmes and other openly gay/lesbian people had. It takes courage to live the life you want to live. It still does for many of us.
In 1943 Althea was a welder
and very proud
loved to cook, sew, and drive a car
and did not care who knew she kept company with a woman
who met her every day after work
in a tight dress and high heels
light-skinned and high-cheekboned
who loved to shoot, fish, play poker
and did not give a damn who knew her ‘man’ was a woman.
Althea was gay and strong in 1945
and could sing a good song
from underneath her welder’s mask
and did not care who heard her sing her song to a woman
Flaxie was careful and faithful
mindful of her Southern upbringing
watchful of her tutored grace
long as they treated her like a lady
she did not give a damn who called her a ‘bulldagger.’
In 1950 Althea wore suits and ties
Flaxie’s favorite colors were pink and blue
People openly challenged their flamboyance
but neither cared a fig who thought them ‘queer’ or ‘funny.’
When the girls bragged over break of their sundry loves
Flaxie blithely told them her old lady Althea took her dancing
and did not give a damn who knew she clung to a woman.
When the boys on her shift complained of their wives,
Althea boasted how smart her ‘stuff’ Flaxie was
and did not care who knew she loved the mind of a woman.
In 1955 when Flaxie got pregnant
and Althea lost her job
Flaxie got herself on relief
and did not care how many caseworkers
threatened midnight raids.
Althea was set up and sent to jail
for writing numbers in 1958.
Flaxie visited her every week with gifts
and hungered openly for her thru the bars
and did not give a damn who knew she waited for a woman.
When her mother died in 1968 in New Orleans
Flaxie demanded that Althea walk beside her at the funeral procession
and did not care how many aunts and uncles knew she slept with a woman.
When she died in 1970
Flaxie’s fought Althea’s proper family not to have her laid out in lace
and dressed the body herself
and did not care who knew she’d made her way with a woman.
by Cheryl Clarke