Take Their Little Necks
I ask you to be fierce, Chicago,
As a drowning man in the first spasm
Fierce first of all to your women.
Trip them when they come mincing down the Avenue,
Take their little necks and squeeze them,
(Women grow scatter-brained with no fingers at them,
There is no white glory to them if they are not hurt,
Oh, the unhurt women you see ogling at the shops.
Paint and cloth!)
And when you get a chance at men.
Be fierce with them;
It is their hands have made you,
Their insistent, silly howling for the moon.
When they wrought you, Chicago,
They wrought pigstys out of gauze.
And fine dreams.
from We, the Musk Chasers, by Loureine Aber
Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1921
Available on the Internet Archive: Link.
I like this poem because the poet’s voice is ferocious. She invites Sandburg’s Hog Butcher of the World, City of Big Shoulders, to wring the necks of her men and women with the facts of the real world.
We, the Musk Chasers–one of the odder titles of its time–was Loureine Aber’s only book, and at that, was a cheap paperback edition from a minor Chicago publisher. A graduate of Oberlin College, she had a number of poems published in Harriet Monroe’s magazine, including a feature spot right after Wallace Stevens in the October 1921 issue. She worked in advertising and then in the offices of the Leschin Apparel Company and boarded with a fellow Oberlin graduate, Lillian Blackwell Dial, and her husband. She died in 1930, a few days past her 37th birthday.
She was in her late 20s when she wrote “Take Their Little Necks.” She’d already been out, presumably on her own, for some years. Was she writing out of frustration with her own situation or with the fact that so many others hadn’t yet come to share her outlook on the world? Another poem in the collection, “You Will Never Go Picking Wild Flowers,” tells a well-to-do woman that she can never be carefree again because “You must go stiff now/Furs in storage/Diamonds in vault/Limousine waiting.” And was to make of “Four Corners of a Room”? Is this a celebration of limits or a declaration of resignation?
It is only four corners of a room
That keep me from becoming God.
I might leap out and spin stars,
I might address myself to grass
And long windy nights.
But these four corners hold me,
They have memories in them.
They will keep me fast
I am glad to be kept from being God.
It is certainly tempting to weave a whole story for Loureine Aber out of the lines of We, the Musk Chasers.
This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.