Mary Lyon’s School for Women


– tuition was reduced by the students performing the domestic chores

I’ll swab the mouths of toilets
to learn Latin conjugates;
I’ll dab dust from every surface
to learn trigonometry, physics.

Teach me more than piano, sewing,
to not raise my voice
above a murmur,
to not contradict my elders,
to not look a man
straight in the eye.

I will give what I have always given—
clean windows, clean floors,
straight, even stitches.

And for it, this time, you will
set Prometheus’ fire
in the kindling of my mind,
and there is no putting out
that hungry blaze. 

Photo of a sculpture of Prometheus at The University of Minho Gualtar Campus, used under CC.


About Author

Renee Emerson is the author of Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014) and Threshing Floor (Jacar Press 2016). She earned her MFA in poetry from Boston University, where she was also awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize in 2009. In 2016, she was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Arkansas Arts Council. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and three daughters.

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