“Poem for the Female Unspoken” and “Daphne’s Riposte” by Emily Cullen

Poem for the Female Unspoken

Perhaps you’ll excuse my lateness…I’m on my period.
– MP Danielle Rowley to the House of Commons, July 2018

This poem goes out to generations
who had to keep confidences
about the curse, clots, bloodstains,
cotton wool bulk between their legs,
menstruating in harsh climates
with minimal comforts.

This poem flies in the face
of centuries of social mores,
honours loose pelvic floors,
the sanctity of feminine secrets,
universal female fear of leaking
crimson through smalls, seeping into

jeans, onto crisp white linen. How many
women through history have shared this
worry when they slept on foreign sheets?
This poem bears witness to small,
hidden woes endured in silence: that
morning she inserted her first tampon

in anticipation of a rough sea crossing,
her acute unease, swaying back and forth
above a choppy ocean; her mortification
about that fourth-degree tear after the birth
of the baby, the soreness and weak bladder
she’s suffered ever since, secreting just

enough urine, as she coughs or sneezes,
to force her home from functions too soon
and those perimenopausal bleeds: a Red Sea
deluge that borders on a haemorrhage,
leaves her on the brink of going to A&E.
Today a fearless MP has announced

to her peers in the House of Commons that
she was late because she was on her period.
Good on her. If men had menses I venture
they would be leaning over bars and fences,
chatting about the relative merits
of moon cups, pads and Tampax.


Daphne’s Riposte

Apollo, you made me
a laureate of sorts,
sentenced for all time
to be trophy wife,
to crown the heads
or deck the necks
of your chosen jocks
and dilettantes.

Listen up Lord of Delphi,
so you think you can
define my destiny?
I’m no accessory
to festoon the victor,
delight your eye,
heighten your appetite,
garnish whatever is on
your plate, or placate
your mounting desire.

I was the huntress, not the prey,
freely scaling forest and glade
under the freight of your gaze
until I cried out to my father
and Peneus heard my pleas,
hid me in this bark, these reeds.

You couldn’t possess me,
yet still you snatched my bloom,
just as I found myself rooted.
How could you read my swaying
branches, shimmering foliage,
as consent to thieve my leaves?

“Poem for the Female Unspoken” and “Daphne’s Riposte” are © Emily Cullen

Emily Cullen teaches Creative Writing with the School of English at NUI Galway. For the past two years, she served as Programme Director of Galway’s annual Cúirt International Festival of Literature. Emily’s third collection of poetry, Conditional Perfect, will be published by Doire Press at the end of this month (September 2019).
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