The Poetry Project

As If

Julia Rider Alsop

Wear small earrings, clip-ons or
None at all
Shoes should come off easily
And be appropriate
For running
Keep toenails
Shoes too large
Are safe
More comfortable
Than shoes
Too small
Wigs should fit
To avoid
Slipping over face
Wear stockings,
Instead of
Avoid necklaces,
Scarves, across-the-body
shoulder bags,
or anything else
That could be
accidentally, or
your throat
Half-zipped or
buttoned jackets
can be pulled
over shoulders
to trap arms

Circle the car
to ensure
number of
Keep eyes
on him, and
his hands,
at all times
Breath through
Your nose
And don’t
Close your eyes
If you don’t like
deep contact
tuck your chin
to your chest
Don’t panic
stomach acids
may destroy
all infectious
bacteria so
may be safer

Don’t brush
Your teeth

sneak it off
with far side
hand (your left
if you’re in
the passenger
seat) and hide
it in a baggie
or napkin

Keep the door open
a crack

if he allows
relax your throat

Run –

against traffic,
not with it.

This poem is culled form L Synn Stern’s Tricks of the Trade Manual.

Reading texts from a particular year made me wonder about the small lines of tension and tugs that created them. The nervous system the text is at the heart of. How 1981 might be speaking to 1981 (and 2018), even if the texts were not knowingly in conversation with one another. I’m picturing the text in the middle of taut lines of yarn, like a cat’s cradle.

At the Museum of Jurassic Technology last winter, I learned that cat’s cradle and other yarn games were thought to open up magic portals, to ward off curses, invite beings in from the otherworld, etc. The mysterious figures conjured up between two hands drowned in yarn created an entry-point to other world’s, other ways.

The particularities of a publication like This Bridge Called My Back reminded me of the blood and sweat that went into its creation. The writing in the anthology itself constantly reminds of us the material, emotional and spiritual labor poured into it. The many meetings, dinner tables and post stamps bought. The reference in the introduction to its two editors becoming “expert jugglers of our energy and the few pennies in our piggybanks: Gloria’s “little chicken” and Cherrie’s “tecate bucket.” ” All the energy that went into creating the text and then how the text circulated after, eventually winding up as attached .pdfs in our 2018 inboxes, a tribute to Laura’s superb scanning and curatorial skills.

It reminded me of an activist text that has always stunned me in its care and specificity. A text written by L. Synn Stern who, in 1981, was a sex worker working most often on the streets of Times-Square. She was also an addict, running one of the country’s first – deeply unofficial and illegal – syringe exchanges. Swiping clean needles from hospitals and distributing them from her backpack. By the time we met, in 2015, Stern was a registered nurse working for Washington Height’s Corner Project. During her time as a harm reduction worker in Amsterdam in the ’90s, she wrote this document.

Archive of the 1981 Feminist Reading Group