Bad Manners

Martina Newberry

I don’t know who to be angry with anymore.
That’s a lie.
I do know
but my rage can’t find a release tunnel—
something or somewhere to race through.
I need to see someone with real power
apply a tourniquet to the hemorrhaging
of the mortally wounded places my country has stabbed.
It is not enough to see the burning bodies on the news in High Definition;
America, you must know that our backyard barbeques mask
the smell of smoke across the planet. It is not enough to know
that in my country there are mothers in jail for protesting the deaths
of their children who were forced to kill other children in other countries—
children who were told to kill them.
Knowing is nothing
Fury is nothing.
Oh sweet America, I don’t crave forgiveness for not singing “I Love Barney” songs
with your babies when I know that the scent of Khinta and the taste of Khubaz have been stripped away from the noses and mouths of those you help to destroy.
I’m not some remorseful woman in a shopping mall unable to grasp the notion of what belongs to whom. I know what is mine and what is not.
The windows through which we watch the world are cleaner than our hands and
 the ghosts fleeing by those windows no longer care what languages they speak.
Talking of how the rivers in Liberia became beds of gravel, and the hills of Sarajevo were too gouged and flattened for snow play, a poet said to me “All you can do is write it again and again until honor turns some of this around.” 
There’s a chance she was right and there’s a chance that it’s bullshit and can’t be
turned around. So, here is that place in the poem where my rage, my madness
has made me teary and tired.

Listen please.
It is not indigestion keeping you awake nights
or the thoughts of a heart you broke
in some fit of bad manners or microwaved lust.
No, this insomnia you suffer is made of oil and blood blending.
This insomnia is the total absence of Love as humans have known it.
This is unabashed Knowing climbing into bed with you,
putting its hands around your throat and squeezing
until your heart bursts open and its pieces
scatter over the world like petals.

Working Notes

At 63, I have rarely been embarrassed by the actions and mistakes of others throughout my life. My own mistakes (and my acting on them) have been teachers for me sometimes, so I have very few regrets. I have little memory of WWII or Korea, but, when America went to war with Vietnam, I began to feel lied to, betrayed by my own (what I thought was “my own”) government. When Vietnam was—how shall we say it—over—I firmly believed my country wouldn’t jump into such an ugly mess again. It did. I was surprised, unhappy, but not embarrassed. During the Gulf War, I was stunned that America was once again playing Cowboys and Indians with the rest of the civilized world. I was somewhat surprised and very unhappy. When the current administration created a reason for yet another war, I was horribly ashamed.

9/11 was a catastrophe. I still don’t know who was responsible and now it doesn’t matter. Thousands and thousands of this planet’s population are dying because America went to war. AGAIN. I take this war personally. I don’t want it. Too many Americans don’t want it—never wanted it—and still the administration has dragged this country into it.

The voices of American women crying out against war, against killing, against the loss of their own children and the children of the Middle East have been silenced again and this time, I am ashamed.

When I was a child, I once left a mess in the bathroom of some friends my parents were visiting. I forgot to flush the toilet, I left the hand towel on the floor, etc etc. My father said to me, “That’s worse than a ‘mistake’ little girl. That’s plain and simple bad manners.”

Hence, this poem.


The new Jazz Age
            reeks of dissatisfaction,
            avoids aging,
            fears death,
            gathers useless tools and useful friends,
            invests on the margin,
            plays golf,
            contributes to the Red Cross,
            drinks raspberry vodka,
            toasts the Cossacks and the Beatles,
            spills expensive perfume on the neighbor’s duvet,
            mutilates bodies,
            swirls Cabernet in a stemmed glass,
            separates conjoined twins,
            devours women,
            exhales men,
            is ravenous
and too full to notice.

Working Notes

Not long ago, I was watching an old silent movie on television. The story was about a “fallen woman,” a woman who partied and maybe even slept around and the dire consequences which eventually overtook her. One of the scenes in the movie fascinated me. The scene was of a 1920s party with people dancing frantically, drinking, and laughing hysterically. The film was scratchy and speeded-up, but the vision was so familiar to me: women—hungry, emaciated, glamorous, and frantic. Men—looking foolish, stiff, out of breath, but in control as they chose dance partners, kissing partners, drinking partners.

I couldn’t get the picture out of my head. It was cruelly timeless. I felt, watching that scene, like I was seeing every party I’d ever attended, every dance, every club I’d ever been in.

The poem came from my wonderment at how little changes and how frightening that is to me.

About the Author

Martina Reisz Newberry’s most recent book is Hunger (August 2007). She is also the author of After the Earthquake: Poems 1996-2006; Not Untrue & Not Unkind; and Running Like a Woman with Her Hair on Fire: Collected Poems. An Apparent, Approachable Light won i.e. magazine’s Editor’s Choice Poetry Chapbook Prize for 1998. She is the author of Lima Beans and City Chicken: Memories of the Open Hearth, a memoir of her father published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in 1989.


You can comment on any of the writing in this issue on the TRIVIA blog

issue 7/8
September 2008

Weibliches Zwillingsgelab Hacilar

unabashed Knowing

Lise Weil

Martina Newberry
Bad Manners
All That Jazz

Barbara Mor

Christine Stark
Amerika in 5 Parts

Laura Tanner
Screens: The War at Home

Leonore Wilson
Invisible Nature

Gabriele Meixner
Woman-Woman Bonds
in Prehistory
Translated by Lise Weil

Beate Sigriddaughter
I Saw a Woman Dance

Monica J. Casper
The Edible Parts

Carolyn Gage
The Happy Hooker Revisited

From our archives
Kathy Miriam
Re-membering an Interrupted Conversation:
the Mother/Virgin Split

Notes on Contributors