Skip to main content

Her "I have come to claim Marilyn Monroe's body," also a satire, would emphasize angry. The Queen of Wands (1982) is dedicated "To Marilyn Monroe / who tried, I believe / to help us see / that beauty has a mind / of its own" (iv). The Queen of Wands is Grahn's revision of the story of Inanna, as mentioned, who is also the Greek beauty Helen in the Iliad (The Queen of Swords 1).

The lesbian poet's claim to the body of America's sex symbol is a powerful criticism of the destructive fetishization of the woman's body. The poem demonstrates Grahn's use of slang, dialect, and blunt sexual terms as part of her arsenal. The language here is a sobering joke on the puerile double entendres of soft pornography and consumerist versions of the feminine muse. The poet pays sardonic homage to the style in "luscious / long brown bones," "wide and crusty / pelvis," and "lovely knucklebone." The specter of decay has already intruded unceremoniously into what might have been a "serious" elegy ("Be serious, Marilyn"). The short imperatives "dig it up, hand it over, / cram it in this paper sack" compound her contamination of the beautiful muse and of the elegiac tone reserved for her memory, as in Elton John's "Good-bye, Norma Jean." The terms "cram it, " "a crack at you," "stuff you," and "a little meat left" are colloquial working-class terms that mock violently the unreflecting sentiment of "the male poets who were so sorry to see you go." The refrain, "hubba. hubba. hubba.", punctuated by full stops, is the carnival hawker's obscenity transformed into the poet's macabre funeral cry.

Grahn's refreshing audacity registers in her pun on lesbian sex: "they're asking . . . what / am I doing for lunch? They think I / mean to eat you." The reporters' "lurid teeth" and appetites cause them to mistake the meaning of a lesbian in Monroe's place. Claiming the body of the sex symbol as her own, the poet uses the reporters' expectations ("We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces") and the woman's transformed body for her own and other women's protection ("and then I shall beat them with your skull").

For women readers of "I Have Come to Claim," Grahn's reference to the "eight young women in New York City" recalls the murders of eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966 by Richard Speck. The mass murder was notable because the women were strangled and stabbed one at a time, with only one managing to escape by hiding. The women's apparent helplessness and even witlessness in the face of horror was thus underscored in the media's description of the killings. The lacquered surface serves Grahn's irony well in her use of "brainless cinderellas" to describe the dead women. The term will not be contested by el lector inimigo, but of course it has other connotations to the metaphorically feminine reader. As "cinderellas," the women succumbed first to an ideology that rendered them docile servants in return for acceptance and/or safety. Their lives over, these women remain trapped in their identity as victims, as "cinderellas" claimed by the media's "lurid" appetite. Literally "brainless," as Marilyn, being dead, has literally "lost her mind," they can never recoup their status as designers of their own destinies.

Grahn's fierceness in "I Have Come to Claim" belies her vulnerability as a "common woman" to an ideological system gird by violence toward women. In seeking commonality with the common woman, Grahn at once exposes herself as uncommon and seeks safety from exposure. Her "overlapping islands" reflects her wish for both connection and protection. In lesbian-feminist fiction of the 1970s and 1980s, such safety was imagined as attainment of stability in a pastoral setting. Zimmerman points out in The Safe Sea of Women that, while lesbian writers of the period often relied on the pastoral setting as motif, escape to paradise is a solution based in Christian heroic lore:

The lesbian hero, a stranger in the strange land of heterosexuality, sets out on a difficult adventure that eventually brings her home to her lesbian self and the lesbian community. The community to which the lesbian hero journeys is typically situated on an island or in a pastoral setting. Thus, the island, the journey, the garden, and the fall are fundamental symbols in the stories lesbians tell about our lives. (31)