The Power of Words

We are a patriarchal society,
our language too often is male dominant.
Male designations within professions:
fireman, policeman, chairman.
Finally adjusted over recent years,
fire fighter, police officer, chair person.

But the very basic words to describe me,
to describe those of you like me,
remain, however subtly, patriarchal.
They contain the male
as if we cannot stand alone,
be independent as ourselves.

We are a woMAN, a sHE.
We are woMEN, feMALES.
And even as we age,
we face MENopause.
Are we not important
unto ourselves?

As long as our bodies exist,
all huMANs bear testament
to the power of their mother,
the ultimate her.
Not MANifest in huMANity,
but etched upon us as we entered the world,
our most basic connection to her.

That impression upon our belly
evidence of her supreme power,
the miracle of birthing.
Place your hand upon your belly.
Do it now as you read. Do it.
Do you understand?

You are forever connected to her.
This connection, too miraculous
to be mundanely called a navel,
worse yet, a belly button.
Scientifically it is the umbilicus,
but that term bears no reference to her.

Long after she passes to another place
her presence remains with us.
Umbilicus or mumbilicus?
Place your hand upon your belly and you decide.
And when you miss her most,
know she is always there with you.

Written for dVerse, the virtual pub for poets around the globe. Today Merril asks us to write a poem about connections. Image: Pregnant Woman by Edgar Degas, cast in 1920, on display at the Met on Fifth Avenue, in gallery 814. Image is in public domain.

** I’ve been interested in the herstory of language and its power to affect change for many years.

39 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. kim881 January 19, 2021 / 3:13 pm

    Very nicely done, Lill! I love the way you deconstructed patriarchal language and made connections to explain it. These lines really spoke to me:
    ‘That impression upon our belly
    evidence of her supreme power,
    the miracle of birthing’
    and
    ‘Place your hand upon your belly and you decide.
    And when you miss her most,
    know she is always there with you.’
    The ending made me cry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 2:56 pm

      Thank you, Kim. I am SOO behind in my reading and replying to my own posts and reading others. I truly don’t know where the time goes!
      I know how close you were to your mum, Kim. Actually you are the reason I called it a mumbilicus rather than a mombilicus.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. sanaarizvi January 19, 2021 / 3:17 pm

    This is absolutely exquisite, Lillian! ❤️ Especially moved by; “That impression upon our belly
    evidence of her supreme power, the miracle of birthing. Place your hand upon your belly. Do it now as you read. Do it. Do you understand?” YES! 🙂

    Like

      • sanaarizvi January 26, 2021 / 3:30 pm

        You’re most welcome! xx

        Like

  3. Ingrid January 19, 2021 / 3:22 pm

    As you might have guessed from my comment on your previous poem, I am not at all comfortable with women constantly standing in the shadow of men! There is a patriarchal element to our language which is quite insidious as we are taught to just accept it as ‘the way it is’ and not be annoying feminists! But if it were the other way round, how would the men feel? I don’t think they would just passively accept this overshadowing.

    I found these lines extremely moving:
    ‘And when you miss her most,
    know she is always there with you.’
    I often find myself missing my mother now that I am a mother myself, but all I need to do is to look down at where the umbilical chord once connected us. Those kind of connections are for life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 2:58 pm

      They are indeed connections for life. Someone else commented they love that the word “mother” has no maleness in it at all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. merrildsmith January 19, 2021 / 3:35 pm

    Such an interesting take on the prompt. I try to use non-gendered language when I can. I’m not bothered by words that often have ancient derivations, but I regularly edit others to write humans or humankind instead of mankind, for example.
    Like Ingrid, I was also moved and touched by those lines–especially now that my mother is gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 2:59 pm

      Thank you, Merril. I do believe inclusive language is key to actions and choices. Sometimes inclusive language takes time to become the norm….but when it does, it usually affects change.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) January 19, 2021 / 3:45 pm

    Very interesting how man is always there in every feMALE aspect… as if it was only that single rib that built you… I believe Adam had his Navel too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:03 pm

      SO late to the reading and commenting….grrrr. But I shall cohost the pub tonight with Sarah and figured I’d just make a day of it. Heaven only knows where the time goes!
      I do LOVE your comment here….oh yes. My guess is Adam and a mumbilicus too! 🙂 Someone else commented they like that the word “mother” contains no maleness to it. In fairness though, the old phrase “It take two to tango” must be given its due. It makes him and her together to make a child. There are many many wonderful men….my husband being one of them.. And I am certain, you are too. But the fact remains….so much maleness in our language. Think of the phrase “That’s a seminal change.”

      Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:04 pm

      Thank you. I had the devil of a time finding an image I liked for this one so very glad you noticed it and thought it went well with the piece. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ben Alexander January 19, 2021 / 5:08 pm

    Heck, my shadow’s not so big anyway, Lillian – you wouldn’t fit in it if you tried! 😉

    Lovely poem!

    -David

    Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:05 pm

      hmmmmm…..I much prefer the idea of standing side by side….him and her. 🙂 Each as it’s own individual peronna…connected by choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Glenn A. Buttkus January 19, 2021 / 5:22 pm

    Now this is a novel conundrum, almost a rhetorical postulate. As a Male, I feel ashamed a bit, but I’m reminded of how most inanimate things, cars, ships, machines are referred to as “her” and “she”. My wife has even emasculated Mt. Rainier calling it “Her”. I have no problem calling God a black woman, but keep your tongue off my mountain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:06 pm

      Ah….smiling I am about the mountain! I must point out….all of those things you’re mentioning that are referred to as “her” and “she” — the ship, the machine, the car…they are all driven by another. They have no power on their own. hmmmmm…….

      Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:08 pm

      Respect and equality matter indeed. But I also think words matter a lot and actually, they bring us to respect and equality. They affect change and perception, although sometimes t may take a while.

      Like

  8. areadingwriter January 20, 2021 / 1:43 am

    gah! such truths here, Lillian. Love the menopause part, too. The last stanza, however, touches the core. Almost moved me to tears. Such a miraculous connection, indeed.

    Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:10 pm

      Ah….finally someone commented on the menopause! 🙂
      Glad you enjoyed the post. A miraculous connection, always with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. M Jay Dixit January 20, 2021 / 3:54 am

    This could be a feminist anthem, Lillian!
    especially loved this part–
    “This connection, too miraculous
    to be mundanely called a navel,
    worse yet, a belly button.”

    Like

  10. Tricia Sankey January 20, 2021 / 8:41 pm

    The belly button is a funny term, isn’t it! lol I enjoyed seeing these connections you made with language and then with our own bodies. I read that the word “man” was originally gender neutral and it wasn’t until about a thousand years ago that the meaning changed to refer to a male. The history of language has always interested me! 💕

    Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:11 pm

      Language is a powerful tool indeed. It truly affects perception and change. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ali Grimshaw January 20, 2021 / 11:32 pm

    This drew a “wow” from me. What a statement about how our English language centers around forms of the word man. I am really loving that the word mother doesn’t have any maleness in it.
    I loved this poem.

    This stanza especially called to me,

    ‘That impression upon our belly
    evidence of her supreme power,
    the miracle of birthing.
    Place your hand upon your belly.
    Do it now as you read. Do it.
    Do you understand?’

    Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:14 pm

      Yes! Isn’t the word mother a powerful one? Mothering….that evokes gentleness and kindness….but it is also a powerful word. No maleness to the word itself….and the idea of raising the next generation. Don’t get me wrong….I am married to a wonderful man. We are a team and have always been. But I do believe in the power of language to affect perception and change. Think of derogative words and the damage they do. Whenever I have to use the word s/he in a sentence where I don’t know the real gender of the person, I always write s/he rather than he/her. Quite a difference, right? When you look at s/he.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Grimshaw January 26, 2021 / 3:21 pm

        Lilian,
        Great point here with the s/he. I believe that the words we choose to use create the the reality we are living from. Therefore, your poem really strikes me as meaningful. I hope we will continue to reflect on how words bring us together or keep us from hearing one another. Luckily the English language is ever evolving. Thanks for sharing more with me about this poem.

        Like

    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:17 pm

      Thank you. So glad you enjoyed. I was just mentioning to someone else….I believe so strongly in inclusive language and that words matter in terms of affecting perception and change. Before I was rejuvenated (never say retired) I worked with graduate students and some undergrads. I taught communication courses and effective business writing. Whenever I referred in writing to s/he, someone I did not know the gender of, rather than writing the normal he/her or him/her, I always used s/he. Can you see the difference? 🙂

      Like

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