Elizabeth Hadaway
Stranger at Gym Insults My Messenger Bag

"I keep seeing these women with great big purses now,"
she says, as if
I’m not kneeling in front of her, fighting my lock (how
does it turn?), stiff
on the locker room floor. "Oh? I hadn’t noticed," her
more tactful friend
answers, drifting away toward the mani-pedicure
on which she’ll spend
more than I get in—never mind, here’s the insult: "Must

be . . . convenient," she hauls off and spits at me. Code word,
meaning "lazy and sluttish subhuman who’s preferred
the greasy shiv
of the drive-throughs, the franchises’ plastic spork, belonged
nowhere so long
if you tried touching silver—an oyster fork, short-pronged—
you’d do it wrong.
It would fly up and cut you, dumb werewolf, into dust."

I might just be a monster of envy. Of her mute
pink preppy plaid
micro-clutch, way too small to hold work? My bag’s a beaut.
Before the fad
for enormity, it hitchhiked with me, half kung fu
flail, half duct tape.
Do I envy her friendship? "Get your words off me, you
damned dainty ape,"
I am tempted to say. It’s too much. And I’m nonplussed

every time women turn on each other. You might think
we had enough
to get by in this viperous world without ratfink
attacks. The snuff
movie. Stoning. And stop a stone mob? Get crucified.
I know that worse
happens, maybe to her. But her casual aside
is still a curse,
one I have to cast off, with my sweat, or else combust.


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