#HerTake: poems about newfound womanhood

May 9, 2024

Collage created by Sades with photograph of Woman Asleep by Ivan Oboleninov and Thistle plants by Daniel Trylski both at Pexels

Sadie Souter examines where personal desire exists in a world of external obligation

I turned 20 this year and it has sent my head spinning. I found myself writing poems about what it means to me to be an actual-adult-woman, navigating my early twenties. I’ve written these two poems, Nocturnal Animals and Spirit Level to sum up the topsy-turveyness of my newfound womanhood.

My first poem Nocturnal Animals explores the idea of the split nature of femininity, trying to balance our own needs and the hindering demands of others. My protagonist is caught somewhere between her real self and this ‘good girl’ expectation of perfection, just as the poem is fractured between day and night.

Nocturnal Animals
There lives a girl who belongs to the night.
Groping in the dark like a sleazy pair of hands,
she crawls, a nocturnal animal.

She keeps her passport close (top-drawer, bedside).
Suitcases half-packed, mind half-occupied.
She presses two coins to her eyes in hope of rest.

Praying that today the sun won’t mar
her blue gauze skin. Pupils dish-sized,
she waits trembling under the moon-singed sky.

When sleep doesn’t come, she pores over her dictionary.
Good Girl (noun): The condition of living only half a life.
Synonyms: quiet, soft, asleep.


She rises with the sun, bloodshot and unready.
Paints on a stranger’s face, lips pursed
at the silver-stung girl hung crooked on the wall.

Itchy eyes assess the tailored length of her pencil skirt,
carefully plucked arch of her brow, her allotted opinions.
She studies their tongues, the vocabulary of daytime.

She tastes the two words good girl as he touches the small
of her back. Fills her up with the strange sweetness of gratitude
and the familiar bitterness of grief.

As the night’s jaw
gapes wide open,
she lets out an owl-shriek into her pillow.

I wrote my second poem, Spirit Level, after an enraptured watch of Todd Field’s film Tár. Cate Blanchett’s performance as conductor hums with delirious power. I wanted to mirror the way it explores sexuality and music with a dark sensuality. Spirit Level is an attempt to un-body sex, rediscovering it in the language we use, in music and in being attuned to the world around us.

Spirit Level
Maybe sex doesn’t live in the body.
Maybe it’s the work of language, a diction.
A palpable conversation amidst the creases
Of bedsheets: a thread-counted sermon.

It takes a while to learn the vernacular.
Practising the inflections, the clicks, the thrum
Of your ulcerous tongue in a mouthed

At first, I was peering into belly buttons,
Like keyhole slits, with an agoraphobic curiosity.
Gawking at all my godless edges,
As if I could find it between them.

Maybe it simmers in the space around us.
Sounds like sparks and swelling.
Like restless bow against hungry string
In the delicate balance of a violinist’s arm

As it rips soaring melody from wood,
These notes live longer in the air than to the touch.
To my conductor’s posture, orchestrating equilibrium.

Elsewhere, I’m pin-drop silent.
Just like Shakespeare’s sister,
Do my words mean less than his?
Yet, when I’m here,

I can be wolf in wolf’s clothing.
I can feel the hum of a power
That’s distinctly feminine.

The craving, then, is to be perfectly even – to be
Spirit level. Balancing in the utterance of our bodies.

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