While teaching about hijab, one bra strap slips
off my shoulder, cordons my upper arm. Some women
in France want to wear it, some in France
want it banned.
I drag a thumb up my arm and yank, hoping not all
the students looking at me
(I’d ordered them moments before: look at me)
will notice, will picture
what I wear under
this wrap-around dress.
You expect I’ll cover this material: rights
of free speech and expression. Skirts and dresses:
at or below the knee. There’s no rule
saying what I can wear. You expect
I’ll be modest. Some women here don’t
wear dresses at all. I cross my ankles. I’ve learned
the custom around here
what’s written down.
I say: women are free to choose. Some choose to reclaim
what once was enforced. I watch the faces
around the squared-off U of tables. I know
what I’m supposed
to get them to see.
I try to feel exactly how close
the layers of my skirt overlap on my thighs
In a news report I show them
a Frenchman says
It’s uncivilized. Women cannot express themselves.
And it’s dangerous. Anyone could hide under there.
Sometimes when I speak my voice
betrays me. In some places men
cut out their tongues. By now
it’s been long enough––
the students sigh, so I tell them: look over
what you’ve written down. I pause
so as not to slip, show
something I didn’t know
you wanted me
Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Poet Lore, Valparaiso Review (online), Burnside Review, and Anglican Theological Review, and is forthcoming in Rock & Sling. Her essay, “Gathering Anyway,” was a finalist for Oregon Quarterly’s Northwest Perspectives in 2009. She teaches at Oregon Episcopal School. Read more at elizabethharlanferlo.com.