What We Mean By Ambition

Sheera Talpaz

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
                                                — Gore Vidal

This life will always be post-collegiate.

I don’t mean to begin with the blankets
Of fate, the proleptic, the prophetic,

The provident. God is dabbling
With us, no? I want to say more about God

But fear the pronouns. At least I can say
The traffic feels on purpose –

Those of use who want to get somewhere
Are on a damned karmic journey.

Always something to conquer,
Some uphill battle, something to never,

Never give in to. Churchillian Wisdom!
In China, there is a 3-day traffic jam

In which even the quitters can’t quit.
We wake up to Godard’s Le Weekend,

Sitting in a nicely polished car that
Isn’t even ours. Hellish Beijing smog,

The smell of gasoline without a drop
To account for. Hell is other people,

Mother people. People who push
Themselves for not a damn reason,

Who say they are battling cancer
By, say, visiting the oncologist.

Couples who visit marriage counselors,
“Work” on their sex life. Hell

Is our childhood nemeses, married
To the most attractive misogynists,

Turning into news anchors before
Our very eyes. Hell is the idiots who

Succeed before we do, if we ever do,
And the intelligent ones who

Succeed. That’s much worse.
Hell is giving or not giving to charity.

Spending Sundays at a food bank
Watching a spider with one good leg

Still shuffling its sad course, not
Complaining one bit. Knowing that

Happiness is not acquired. Hellish,
The woman with more work in her than ethic.

3rd Wave's a Charm

“Might like you better/if we slept together.”
                                    -- Amanda Blank

“Madame Bovary, c’est moi!”
                                    -- Gustave Flaubert


Two feminists and a misogynist walk into a bar
and begin pounding beer as though it were

a common denominator. Peaches on the radio –
maybe a local college station – so every third word is pussy.

The feminists talk about the social construction of gender;
about reappropriating the word bitch;

about squashing shame with Betty Friedan’s ass;
about rape fantasies prominently featuring

one’s family members; about Freudian breast shapes;
and the misogynist is me.


A feminist considers plastic surgery.
A feminist wears lingerie.

A feminist, body dysmorphic, assimilatable, low-souled.
Not that sassy. Believable.

I have been that type of feminist,
frothing at the mouth over you, flipping through Cosmo
at the dentist’s office, begging for porcelain veneers,
so that you’ll gag that pretty, heteronormative mouth of mine

and do unspeakable things to my body. A feminist like me
is and isn’t sexually liberated, feels waves of shame

like voluntary, erotic electrocution. A feminist is called a bitch for a reason;
a feminist has a drawer full of sparkly things.

A feminist can be so dumb and stuff, just give her a chance.


For a while I thought, “Can I write a poem about honor killings?”
And: “How about genital mutilation?”

At times I would complain about traffic. More than anything,
I hated a woman in a mini-van. All that she represents: finiteness.

I live in a world where nothing matters, so I have to pretend.

A woman with a name more ethnic than mine is beheaded
for having her rapist’s baby out of wedlock. Shame on me,

and my silvery enameled nails; my whole hands.
Shame, shame on you.

In California the trees are burning like a woman’s face,
and this is just a poem.

Sheera Talpaz
Sheera Talpaz

Sheera Talpaz is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Michigan, where she received a Hopwood Award in poetry. Her essays and poetry have appeared in The RumpusThe CollagistLa Petite Zine, and other journals. She lives in Chicago.