Through the voices of a diverse cast of women, simultaneously real and mythological, Christine Sloan Stoddard’s Desert Fox by the Sea addresses issues of racism, sexism, shame, social inequality, personal identity—all in gorgeous verse and riveting prose. These are tales of modern tragedy, unflinching in their struggle, honesty, and art.
I pluck my hair from the root because my scalp can make the sacrifice. Because I want to create from my own body. Because my children are hungry.
Open the studio. There is no paint in the house. Open the fridge. There is no milk in the house. Open the cupboards. There is no bread in the house. We don’t have eggs or peanut butter or carrots or canned beans or anything edible at all. We finished the last bag of corn chips before the weekend crept up and shook our shoulders in another one of its cruel tricks.
“I’m here,” the weekend slithered. “Here to haunt you. Kill you.”
At school, the children eat because there is some fairness in this world, or at least pity. My daughters line up in the cafeteria, fill their trays with permitted items, and punch in a special code when they step up to the register. Then they sit down and fill their stomachs. But at home, we have no special code.
There is no acrylic in the house and my children are hungry. There is no charcoal in the house and my children are hungry. There is no pastel in the house and my children are hungry.
But there is a bottle of glue at the back of my desk. Holy, holy, holy.
For canvas, I cut out a panel from a cereal box from the days when we had food. Then I stumble to the porch, the only place with ample light since I can’t afford to replace half of the bulbs, and I begin pulling out my hair, strand by strand. I crouch over the rail and yank until I have a handful of Titian strands. My hair is my paint.
From this hair I will craft a woman in my own image. She will possess the large, sore breasts of a woman still nursing. She will try to conceal the scarred vulva of a woman who has given a painful birth by arranging her black curls just so. Perhaps then a man will love her and stay. Perhaps then she will no longer carry the burden of feeding her children alone.
I tell myself all of this as I arrange and paste until I run out of strands. Then I twist, twirl, and tug yet again with the repetition of wiping a soiled child clean. I patch and paste over and over as my woman takes shape. My woman needs no other subject, no accessories, no objects in the foreground. My woman will hang in a gallery. May the whole city see the desperation in her red eyes. May the whole city feel the rumble of her stomach.
“What are you doing, Mommy?” comes a faint little voice. But I do not answer by opening my mouth. I answer inside my head:
I remember when you were born, Sarah. Your father and I had already split. I had nothing to eat. They gave me nothing at the hospital and there was nothing in the house. So I huddled on the crumbling porch and stared at the moon, thinking I could eat it if I stared long enough. The next day there was no food, either.
Finally, on your third day since leaving my womb, Grandma stopped by with two brown paper bags stuffed with groceries. It was pay day and she wanted to celebrate your life even if she hated your daddy almost as much as I did. I was huddled on the porch again, this time watching the neighborhood children play in the streets, wondering how many of them were hungry, too. I was sucking and pulling my hair because, even then, it was my bad habit. If I pulled out enough hair, maybe I would stop being hungry. Maybe all I would think of then would be my scalp stinging from the hurricane of my hand uprooting so many strands. Grandma almost toppled over when I charged her and seized the bags. I ate right there on the lawn: a green apple and chocolate pudding without a spoon.
Let’s wait for this to dry. Then we’ll catch the bus to the art gallery and hand in my lady of hair. Maybe someone will notice her and buy her. Maybe there will be food at the opening reception. Maybe then we will eat.
Originally published in The Feminist Wire
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Christine Sloan Stoddard is a Salvadoran-American writer and interdisciplinary artist. She is the founder of Quail Bell Magazine and the author of Belladonna Magic (Shanti Arts), Desert Fox by the Sea (Hoot 'n' Waddle), Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil), Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), and other books. You can find her work in Ms. Magazine, Bustle, The Feminist Wire, Marie Claire, The Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine, Digital America, Native Peoples Magazine, and beyond. Her work has also appeared in the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum, the Poe Museum, Annmarie Sculpture Garden, FiveMyles Gallery, and elsewhere.