Women of Steel by Rachel Bower

For an audio version of this poem, please click here. 

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Women of Steel

We are sisters who clank through the streets

on rustless feet and chain-linked arms

the deep pull of ore in our loins –

calls of ancestors deep in the rocks

of yolk and plum and rust.

I polish her toes ‘til they shine –

she deserves this at least

and I know that she’d polish mine.

.

We are women of steel

women who do what we feel

women who do what we can

women who cry, women who rise

women at the heart of this town.

.

My nipples leak steel milk

and she keeps holding me up.

.

We are women who labour and birth

women who work, women who juggle

dark peaks and light, women who do what we can,

when Cleethorpes’s too dear there’s the beach in town

the patch of sand that scratches our palms

sisters of steel squatting down.

.

I wipe orange streams from her cheeks

and keep holding her up.

.

We are women of steel

of hijabs and braids, of curly and straight

of blonde hair and white

women who run, women who ride

women who lathe and grind without gloves

we are women of three kids and twins on the way

and just a bit of peace.

 

Just a bit of peace please

.

She wipes crystal dust from my nails

and keeps holding me up.

.

We are women of hills

of limestone and grit

of ups and downs

of you can do it duck

we’ll get through it

we are women who nobody knows

guilt plated girls with lacquered legs

women of glad rags

of red crags, of sneaking bags back

from the foodbank

we are women of steel

.

I grip her shoulder

and keep holding her up.

.

women who do what we feel

women who do what we can

women who cry, women who rise

women at the heart of this town.

 

Rachel Bower is a poet and Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. Her debut pamphlet, Moon Milk, will be published by Valley Press in May 2018. Rachel She co-edited the anthology, Verse Matters, with Helen Mort (Valley Press, Dec 2017). Rachel’s academic book, Epistolarity and World Literature, 1980-2010 was published by Palgrave Macmillan in October 2017.  

Rachel’s poems have been published by Stand Magazine, Interpreter’s House, Strix, BBC Radio, Now Then, Peacock Journal, Pankhearst and many others, and she has had winning or shortlisted poems in several prizes, including the 2018 York Literature Festival Poetry Prize, the 2017 Flambard Prize and The London Magazine Poetry Prize 2016. Rachel is also the founder of Verse Matters, a feminist arts collective in Sheffield. 

This poem was originally commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day 2016, and was republished in Now Then 2017.

 

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