Notes toward a poem about Hedda and Lisa

Having just read an amazing poem by Jane Mead about Hedda Nussbaum and Lisa (do we still in good conscious use the last name of the man who beat her to death??), I’ve been thinking on them all morning. These are very rough notes toward something, although nothing like the firm calm grasp of an actual poem. But every start is a start, and everything that is grows from having been willing to start.

Hedda and Lisa

I understand, Hedda, I do,
I do, what happened to you, how
the shame bound tighter than
the pain, how you could no more
have saved yourself than Lisa. No more
have saved Lisa than yourself.

Lisa was yourself.

But I’ve been that child, too, and you,
goddamn you, were an adult and really-
really?-there was no single time when you
could have run, could have called 911,
could have locked out me out, made me
wander the halls crying until someone could
no longer refuse to see me?

Let’s talk about how traps work.
Let’s talk, let’s call Oprah, let’s weep
about how a coyote in a trap
will chew off her own leg.

But who sets the trap?
Nevermind, we’ve talked that to death.
Whose hands bear the animal’s blood?
We all know we all do and also
how we’ve made popular the wearing
of red gloves to make fashionable what is true.

But who made the trap, whose job
is forging, polishing, packaging,
boxing, driving, opening, pricing,
placing just so on a shelf?

The whole world betrayed you, Hedda,
and Lisa – hell, you weren’t even real
enough to own the expectation of a right
and the wrong done to you was barely
a crime at all. Manslaughter? As if
a six year old girl were a man, as if
one could slam a child into a wall
and say I did not mean to kill.

But still.
A coyote who would leave her leg in a trap
would not leave her cub trapped there.
She would stay, fight, face the hunter
and his club, his gun.

Or so I need to believe. Better
that you stayed, Hedda, when you could not
get her free than that you were too crippled
to run. But could you have crawled,
dragging shattered legs across the ground,
your cub in your teeth, across broken glass
and burning ground?

In the Disney movie, you would have.
In the Lifetime movie, too. In the starring-
Angelina-Jolie film you would have twirled
and blasted Joel with blazing guns; in the
sisterhood version, a tribe of Amazons
would have rescued you.

But in the real world, the easiest plot
was for the hunter’s clan
to club you. Hedda, battered
by one man and then the whole world
felt justified in beating you while Lisa
just went on being dead.


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