Advice for Pliny the Elder, Big Daddy of Mansplainers
Great Man, now that you are dead, allow me to squeeze your hand. The sage
bushes in Umbria are heavy with bees, so I'm killing them with hypnosis. I
am a mere woman—inferior lettuce—but I understand swoon aka mirabilia.
I fill this cup with nectar and offer it to soothe your Vesuvian wounds. I share
your love of baths and classification and sure, if we had to point to a god in the
sky, why not call him Thunderbolt? I too believe sewers are the great architectural
invention. I do all my searching on roads. It has been two thousand years so we
can forgive some of your assertions. The sea mouse who helps whales find their
way by parting the brows above their eyes. The one-eyed humans and sciapods
with umbrella feet, the whole exotic bestiary. If I had no mouth but could live
off the smell of apples I'd move to Kashmir—scratch that, maybe Sussex.
Once a month, when the blood comes, I go out to lie in whatever field I
find to feel the scorch rise and the crops wither. Our powers are much
depleted. I can stand among men in full swing of my menstruus and
nothing will dim their ability to tell me about me. There are birds
at the window this morning I can't name and dogs in the valley
beyond, who are using their bell-shaped lungs to announce
their happiness again and again and again. Nothing has
changed. We worry about the wane and winnow. In
your time perhaps the ladies used bits of cut-up
smocks but these days we have menstrual cups.
Desire is still a kind of ruin—that silly bird
fluttering against the window net,
trying to get in, the body's steady
lilt towards oblivion. They say you
had a sister, like Shakespeare's—
mostly overlooked. That it was she
who first noticed the smoky clouds
that sent you on your way. Dear
Pliny, I guess you never heard the
one about curiosity. The cat is real.
The earth never tires of giving
birth. If you get too close
to a volcano, you should
know it may erupt.
Tishani Doshi is an award-winning writer of poetry, fiction, and essays, and Visiting Associate Professor of Practice, Literature and Creative Writing at New York University, Abu Dhabi. Author of the novels, Pleasure Seekers and Small Days and Nights, she has also written for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Hindu, The Weekend Financial Times, and Vogue, among others.