A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


Vaness Vitiello Urguhart’s feature in Slate this week, Butch is Beautiful, put me in mind of a poem entitled “Old Friends”, written by Anne MacKay, who from childhood on—she was born in 1928 and died two years ago—had a home in Orient on the easternmost tip of the North Fork of Long Island. Anne was a graduate of Vassar College and was Drama Instructor and Theater Director at two distinguished New York schools, the Dalton School , from 1953-1972, and Horace Mann, from 1972-1992.

Later in life she devoted her energies to poetry and to preserving lesbian voices and experiences through her work with the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, where her own papers are now archived.

She is the author of Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian and Gay Experiences 1930-1990 (St. Martin’s Press, 1993) and the poetry collections, Field Notes of a Lesbian Naturalist, Gifts, Salt Water Days, Fields, and Sailing the Edge, from which the poems we’ll post are drawn. (For a copy of Sailing the Edge or Field Notes of a Lesbian Naturalist, send a check or a money order for $20 to MG Soares for each book along with your address to PO Box 97, Orient, NY 11957.)

Anne’s snug cottage on the side of a hill overlooking Hallock’s Bay evoked Moley’s digs in The Wind and the Willows, its charm captured in her poem “Housemates”:

Silverfish along walls and ceilings,
sow bugs in the bathroom, mosquitoes, ants,
August flies—I share my house with one and all.
Spiders with soft pale webs, all sorts of hard
black bugs that creep or fly—mean-spirited biters,
moths who rush to the bed lamp, visiting wasps.
Most behave, rushing or crawling on separate rounds,
this old, warm home a perfect hunting ground.

“Old Friends” by Anne MacKay:

We saw an older girl
wearing a white, men’s
shirt at school—collar
open, sleeves folded up,
shoulders loose and free.
“Sexy!” we said—meaning
“cool!” Mother frowned,
“Don’t use that word!”
But it was handsome, and
looking back it was sexy,
a bridge between genders,
the comfort, the swagger
of the open-shirt sailor or
double-shirted woodsman.

It was the first present
I ever bought myself.
A dollar-fifty spent at
Lipton’s store set me free.
The colors, the makers,
changed and changed
but, loyal as a barnacle
on a wooden pier,
these comfortable shirts
remain my friends, still
with me, after sixty years.

(From Sailing the Edge © 2003 by Anne MacKay. Used by permission of the Estate of Anne MacKay, 2014. Photo by Flickr user Jackie)