A group of young women writers took the stage at Bard College at Simon’s Rock with stories and poems dealing in different ways with the development of identity alone and in relationship.

Panel organizer and Festival rep Kirsten Peterson performed a powerful poem, which she agreed to share with Festival blog readers:

Cold Dog on the Mountain, With a Wolf Beside the Fire                

By Kirsten Peterson

It’s assumed that in the history of her domestication the common bitch has lost her bite.
So it’s said that she would do anything rather than live as a love lost stray
that to do so makes her savage.
A wild thing willing to be taken in-
many believe she is just waiting to be thrown a bone
so eager for your heavy petting and it makes her meek
and so obedient and so loving in return…
Quiet too, if you train her right.

But strays do exists
and my stray dog strut is my own to be left alone
but on the street my nervous flash of teeth is seen as a come-hither smile.
Why would I roll over and apologize for growling
when he tried the trick of stating ownership and came too close
whistling and grasping
because I am his desired pet?
Why would I see him as anything but the threat he is?

They assumed that it is in my nature and breeding to both love and obey,
that my devotion and love is all encompassing and limitless
and thus I am rebuked or dismissed if I dare to howl in protest.

I’ve had the catcher’s noose descend and welcomed the change of pace
but when caught and kicked enough I learned to duck away.
I learned the hard way the hand that feeds is too often a fist-
how could they think that a bitch won’t fight back like a true hound dog?
When backed into the corner would you blame me when I begin to snarl and snap-
fighting through a panicked scramble of foaming mouths and twisting bodies
just trying to get away and back to that stray sense of self.

Denied my voice
I remembered mouths could bite.
It starts with the slow process of working off that muzzle
chew away his belt and rolled up newspaper
and when we square off it’s my teeth
my speech
my gut instinct telling me I fight or I die
encased in my hide which by now has been numbed to his heavy palms.

He taught me the word bitch
now I have my own words to impart
and I will be understood.
When I speak back now my teeth aren’t smiling.
and my growl isn’t playful-
if I whimper it’s because I am in pain.

But by threat of tooth and nail I will speak
against the leash, the clip, the collar-
I rile up
pull against.
When they tell me to follow the ways I was trained
tell me to obey the command and to heel
tell me it’s in my nature to follow
I sit back with my mouth wide and laughing,
tongue cool and eyes open,
and I do nothing but look them in the face as equal.

Push me further-
you will see me raise my lips and hackles-
not a milk-drowsy pup,
not a sleek and shining pet,
when I bite, I bite for blood.
This is cold reminder
that every dog is just one meal too few
and one beating too many
from becoming a wolf.

They will know this
and assume nothing more.