Ruth Orkin, American Girl in Italy, Florence, 1951, 16 x 20 in. (40.64 x 50.8 cm.)
Like tourists tossing pennies
into the reptiles’ tank
they throw their jeers and glares
down the street at passing women,
forcing their attention,
caging them now in their own desires.
What is it in some creatures
that insists upon response,
that necessitates invasion? Or
compels the look away,
the slow retreat to the lockless cell.
Review by Nancy Sobanik
Kirsch’s poem opens with simile and alliterations “Like tourists tossing pennies/ into the reptiles’ tank” and words bold as brushstrokes paint the image of predatory men heckling women. The men are positioned high above and the women down on the street, furthering the image of dominance and attack. The poem asks a rhetorical question detailing the conflict between those who have power and those who are subjugated. The metaphorical “they” of this poem can represent whoever is brought to the reader’s mind, and history is replete with examples.