Look by Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo

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
            by looking––
                                                  the custom around here
                        rather than
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
            without looking.

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
to cover.



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.