Life was a party I crashed clumsily,
a voyeur, a wallflower,
standing on the sidelines of weddings, births,
nearly everything that binds the social fabric.
A shy stranger in a room
full of other people’s friends,
my little plate of gender rolls
dipped in the bitter sauce of obligation;
small, wilted canapés on a tarnished platter.
I arrived with little more than my youth,
fleeing my shabby kitchen
that came alive at night,
its counters and floors awash in roaches;
it was there I prepared dinner
and plotted revolution.
Pesky relatives claimed a husband
could pull me out of squalor
but, to me, their stories were but cautionary tales,
peppered with maybes and should-have-beens.
They swore that I would rue the day
I walked out of their party
yet, I still savor the moment I opened
that fated door.
Beyond it lay an outcast’s world;
mountains of treasure scattered
in bright and jumbled piles,
a veritable carnival of disorder.
I heard a circus-song of odd harmonies
a merry-go-round of alternatives,
striking every chord in my imagination,
resounding, vibrating, seducing
with wild and discordant song.
As I listened every hair rose up
and stood at attention.
I found myself dancing.
I was an enemy then,
embedded in their workplace,
my gender branding me as an interloper,
an alien from the other side.
Work hours passed in quiet isolation,
a drafter, I drew lines
mapping the nexus of water mains
beneath San Francisco streets,
a network no woman
had dared document before me.
I wore my resolve, like armor,
like an ammunition belt
draped over my shoulder.
Each morning I returned to the frontlines
and each evening glanced furtively
beneath my car before entering,
checking for a threat
I preferred not to name.
An object of ridicule,
I walked a tightrope of repressed anger,
basked in the reflected light
of feigned indifference.
My cubicle became my fortress
a place of quiet observation
from which I bore witness to every battle.
With prudence and caution
I horded my paychecks
and learned to love silence.
Yes, I was an enemy then,
a reluctant exile in my own skin;
barely three years had passed
before my pink-slip waved
like a white flag of surrender.
One last stark and brutal acknowledgement
that all my weapons were useless
and I'd finally lost
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Joan Annsfire has lived in the Bay Area for nearly thirty years. She now makes her home in Berkeley. Her work has appeared in these literary journals (among others): The Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, Sinister Wisdom (many issues), The SoMa Literary Review, 13th Moon, Bridges, and The Evergreen Chronicles, as well as in the following anthologies: Queer Collection: Prose & Poetry 2007, The Cancer Poetry Project, The Other Side of the Postcard, Identity Envy, The Venomed Kiss, and Read These Lips.