LaWanda Walters

Two poems from LaWanda Walters’s Seedy Lake

followed by a note on the author


The trouble with Jane Eyre
isn’t what I thought when I slammed shut the book
on those pictures trying to fly out at me
because I misunderstood, being too young

to read. When you’re unable to read a book
you can’t understand the illustrations, either.
Those were my mother’s books, a green, bound set
of that one and the book by her sister, Emily.

When you can’t understand the artwork
the face at the window is a monster.
It is only Cathy, though, in the book by Brontë’s sister
calling for her lover. And the awful figure bending

over Jane’s bed with the candle, that monstrous
creature—well, there are flaws in the mind of Jane, too,
and the awful figure bending over her
might be the tormented wife of Rochester.

There’s a flaw in Jane’s mind, too,
looking down on the young French child
born to another tormented mother
whom Rochester says has inherited sin.

The young French child likes presents too much,
likes to dance and sing—and so what? She is love-starved,
this child who has supposedly inherited sin,
who will never get the approval of Mr. Rochester.

We lose track of the pretty child who likes to sing.
Jane goes away for a while to prove her purity.
Then, when the other wife dies, Mr. Rochester
will approve. Reader, I married him, she says,

after she has gone away for a while. He is blind
from the fire the crazy wife set. And then, miraculously,
her love asks if she is wearing a blue dress.
I believe she is pregnant, then, carrying a child

who will be a good child, miraculously.
Charlotte Brontë knew only part of the happy ending.
Perhaps he gets better and sees the blue dress.
We have to believe things turn out well,

while Charlotte, herself, had nine months of pleasure
and died. And so the book, which ends as if resolved,
asks us to believe things turn out well, the French girl gone,
Rochester and Jane and the baby in the burned-out

mansion, because books then ended resolutely
and did not reflect how it is to have a calm life,
Rochester and Jane and the baby in the burned-out
mansion, illustrated by the art of the woodcut,

which does not suggest such a calm life,
but a knife and fire making art out of wood,
in a mansion that itself has been sculpted by
fire and breaking things, which is how we really live.



My First Orgasm at Main Street Baptist Church

It was the little Bible I had on my lap—the New
Testament. It was “white patent,” like my shoes.
It might be a clutch purse, I felt,
and I was being admirably still and quiet

with my white patent-leather clutch purse,
pretending I was a fashion model, praying
when the preacher said to or singing the hymn
Daddy led, holding my clutch purse even

after we sat back down, pretending I was a model
like Colleen Corby in Seventeen.
If I could sit as I sat last Sunday, my clutch
purse at that same angle, a buzz

of pleasure came. Colleen Corby was a “flower,”
my mother said, one time we went to Gulfport.
Sometimes the New Testament would buzz
and tingle, fizz some pleasure in my Sunday dress.

That’s what she was like, my mother in Gulfport,
alive to the sweetness of those pretty girls.
The gathers and ruffles in my skirt were ocean waves.
In our bathroom, I saw froth in my panties.



Woodcut and My First Orgasm in Main Street Baptist Church first appeared in Poetry.

LaWanda Walters was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1949 and earned her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her first book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, was published in 2016 by Press 53 in its Silver Concho Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Georgia Review, Antioch Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, Nine Mile, Laurel Review, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, and other literary magazines, as well as in Best American Poetry 2015 and Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century. She received Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards in 2020 and 2024. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, fellow poet John Philip Drury.