Staff pick: “self-portrait as loose women” by Gabriella Navas

Ann Bracken is a contributing editor for the Little Patuxent Review and serves on the Review Committee. In this post, she shares her staff pick from the Winter 2020 issue, Gabriella Navas’ poem “self-portrait as loose women“.

Gabriella Navas hooked me from the opening line of her poem: “on this street, all the windows have Virgins in them”. Navas transports the reader to a mythical street where the holy mingles with the profane, using images to portray the faceless and nameless women described as having “drops of sweat strewn across their chests like loose rosary beads,” whom the Virgins, “always with their eyes closed”, cannot see.

some nights / we women are both the delivered and the damned

Gabriella Navas

The poet evokes the shame of those “loose women” without directly saying so. I’m not even sure if people use the term “loose women” anymore, but no one would need to tell a reader what the poet implies after reading this line: “the ones whose knees buckle only for unholy men…”  Navas’ says what the reader knows, that these pejoratively labeled loose women are not acting of their own will; they’re forced into the sex trade. The reader can almost hear their whispered “pocket-knife prayers” and feel the urgency with which they’re murmured. 

The poet continues the women’s journey in stanza two by invoking her grandmother’s words that “some nights we women are both the delivered and the damned.” Now, instead of them being faceless creatures wandering the streets, we are all included in the notion of being “loose women.” Navas speaks a truth rarely heard in polite conversation, about the dark turns sex can take in any encounter – the turn where women can find themselves “pinned to beds not our own, legs spread and dripping with the lust of men who can’t tell a curse form a covenant.” When I read this line, I immediately thought of the countless women who’ve told their stories with the “Me Too” movement and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, as well as Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill, both of whom braved the national spotlight to lift secrecy’s veil on judicial appointees. 

Finally, Navas leaves the reader with an image of power and hope, showing us the strength of all “loose women” whose “survival is so strong it breaks the strings of david’s harp.”

Like what you see? Check out the other great pieces in the Winter 2020 issue.

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