Allison Thompson

A Woman Speaks

By Allison Thompson

Writing 212: The Art of the Essay

I have been sitting on the museum floor for hours reading the detailed descriptions of the aboriginal paintings

The colors are speaking to me Recreating the ripple effects of water Mirroring the waltzes of light forms

Telling me the stories of the soul shaking trees

I linger on the painting that stretches 8 feet across

Consisting of what seems like a million tiny dots.

I want someone to paint me like this. I thought

A painting where spectators will be forced to stop and stare at the immense beauty in front of them

Where my intricate nature cannot be overlooked

The painting was titled

The roar of the waterfalls is said to be in her voice

Wayampajarti painting

Mawukura Jimmy Nerrimah. “Wayampajarti.” Oil on canvas, 2001. Seattle Museum of Art. 35 13/16 x 40 3/16in


You remind me of home.

The way the magazines are scattered all over the tables and chairs of the small apartment, there is that one room with what seems like thousands of photos.

Snap shots of the lives you led

Photography is a friend, but painting is your lover

The images and canvases with their awkward edges do not give me a clear path

I am trying to reach you

I am trying to understand you

Oh don’t step on those I’m getting around to framing them

There are masking tape bandages over thrown out canvases you have been attempting to mend.

Your obsession has manifested into this thing we are calling a relationship

Fixing damaged goods

You painted something once

Said it was a metaphor for our love

I was confused by the mix of colors, shapes, and materials

I love it. I lied

You can’t see it? The metaphor. You replied Maybe because it is an abstract, I can never truly appreciate them

The conglomeration of colors seemed unapproachable

Perhaps you’re right

We have made a mess of love.

The painting may be cunningly creative, but no love of mine would hide himself from me

No love of mine would love me in the abstract


Hardly ever do you ‘hear’ anything before it explodes – with indirect fire, you

sometimes get a faint whistling.


Usually it’s just one really big f***king bang, then the sound of debris collapsing and little bits of debris softly sprinkling down around you, which sounds like a mix between heavy rain and sand falling.


– A Google search on synonyms for explosion


You remind me of an explosion.

The way no one sees you coming with your quiet disposition, there is an unassuming look in your eyes making me want to know everything.

And nothing at all

Indirect fire I suppose

You ascertain meaning to arbitrary places we walk through and cafés we visit


We are in close proximity

Our love is building



Collapsing your body into mine

Ridding me of my sense of self


Let’s play a game!

Like children do

You’ll be the hand grenade.

I’ll be the serenade

And together

we’ll make a mess of this love.


You remind me of a coloring book.

The way I think I know just enough but then, there is a force that causes me to fill in the missing parts of you.






Between the lines I will draw colorful illustrations of a person who does not exist

Hopeful affection. Futile romance.

Compressed burden.

This desire is too strong to comprehend

The canvases are broken my dear, there is nothing left to mend.

Where did my love disappear to?



S e e k

We’re playing games again, guessing each other’s histories and mysteries

Ready or not here you come

Leaving me scattered into a million tiny dots of indigenous heartache.







On the sweet potato casserole you claim you baked last week. It was store-bought, but I chose not to reveal your lie. My mother would never purchase a store- bought sweet potato casserole. She would carefully sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar by hand. She would pay close attention to the temperature settings.

If you keep them in longer than this they won’t be golden brown

She tells me as she picks up the hot transparent platter with her bare hands

I buy her oven mitts that she does not use

She’s been burned too often to feel anything now

My mother’s dance in the kitchen is artfully crafted

Art the way she moves

Art the way she loves me.

i owe my understanding of beauty to my mom

there is a small mole that sits

a centimeter from the tip of my nose my mother has the same mole in the very same spot

she marvels at the fact that i inherited this visible characteristic

she is in awe of her creation

she grabs my hands with pure joy, “look allison we have the same fingers!”

the way our nails create similar curves

she is correct

they grow in the same naturally rounded shape

she will hold my hands in hers and laugh with delight

i imagine she did the same when i was a baby

i don’t think i have changed much in her eyes

i am still the same girl with my need for affection

my need for attention my want for acceptance

You remind me of my father.

The way your silence speaks volumes.

The way your presence changes the tone of the atmosphere.

There is the way you argue in metaphors that no one understands, but make perfect sense to you – my father does the same.

He is not soft like my mother

He is rough to the touch

Your emotions can change at any moment

and I will indeed be caught in the crossfire We’re arguing and you’re saying some shit that doesn’t make sense

Never mind the consistency of the ocean tides, things change and grow

I implore you to stop telling me in the abstract

I wish I hadn’t

You’re telling me I’m expecting too much and I’m here sitting on my throne of my perfection. You’re telling me I can’t have everything and that it was wrong of me to ask that of you.

Now you’re screaming, Allison stop being so damn demanding, you are making me into someone I am not

And I’m thinking about aboriginal paintings and have no idea what to do You are better than this. You continue The insults sting

Puncture my psyche like the times I run into the ocean in the dead of winter. At first the adrenaline tells me to feel nothing


A thousand tiny pricks cover my exposed skin

The cold ocean tides are a reminder that any harm done to this body of mine will cause me to


Hand grenade.

That is what you are

You are calmer now, trying to explain your selfish rage

– my father does the same.

You know, how when I’m painting… the colors do not always blend well together

What I am saying is that sometimes I have to try different methods, but other times I simply give up. There is no use in a canvas telling stories you do not intend it to

You’re using some metaphor to make a mockery of what I thought was an explicit                                       


By the way, we are not better than this.


I whisper to myself that I am deserving of whatever love we are attempting to concoct

I am deserving of the love I believed in before the roof caved in

Before reality reconstructed my house of delusion

There is an easy response to your plea of

What do you want from me?

You have trouble understanding what I say next

I want you to look at me the way the sun looks through the skylight in your attic.

i owe my love of light to my mother the way she loves rising just as the sun begins to show its face

the world has not always been kind to my mother

she hasn’t expected it to be

i gave her a pillow for christmas one winter

after unveiling the gift she began to cry

“you want me to sleep peacefully?” i did not recognize that she was having restless nights until that moment


I lie awake thinking about the destruction I have caused.

I have prayed for you.

I have woken up and imagined you.

At night the world cannot tell me that I am unable to love.

My dreams do not consist of a love in the


I have taken my daily dose of Night Time prescription and I still cannot get rid of thoughts of you.

I will tell my doctor I have persistent symptoms of heartache and regret.

i am six years old, the school reports say that I am a quick learner and energetic

my mother showers me with words of kindness each day

you are so beautiful you are so intelligent

she sings me quiet lullabies as I fall asleep

she sings the same lullabies when i fall into love with a boy who does not love me back

i have never questioned my mother’s


it is soaked unconditionally



You told me that you love me.

For you, my dear, I had no response.

You waited



I cried large drooping tears that sounded like a mix of heavy rain and sand


F a  l    l    i



Breathe me. Drink me in. Fall to your knees.

Make me feel like sin.

Read me the sweet lullabies you remember by heart.

Call me out by my full name in the dark.

Tell me your secrets and tell me your lies. But don’t you dare tell me that you love me.

No, no not this time.



A Word from Allison

My mom tells me that when she was overwhelmed and stressed out by the long list of things that she needed to complete, her youngest daughter would simply tell her to “start at the beginning.” With this piece, I started somewhere in the middle. Although I was initially guided and inspired by the aboriginal artwork, I quickly felt intimidated by the task of putting a lyrical essay together. How would I experiment with form in a way that would add, not detract from the writing itself? Would I be able to accurately convey meaning without including every detail? Even with these questions in mind, I managed to draft the opening lines of the essay in the notes section of my phone. “A Woman Speaks” was written in fragments. The sections about my mother were intended to be a part of an entirely different essay, but as I began to write I recognized the interconnected nature between the various themes. At times, writing this essay felt uncomfortable. A Woman Speaks was unlike anything I had written in the past. By exploring the idea of love and what it means to be loved I faced challenges in finding the words to write about an emotion usually expressed through the physical. This piece reminded me that no matter how often I draft, edit and revise other essays, my writing process will change. In those adaptations there is room for me to experiment, obtain deeper understanding, and ultimately create work that might have taken more time, but leaves me feeling fulfilled. “A Woman Speaks” gave me the freedom to explore my own ability to take risks in form, lyric essay, and theme. I am still learning to silence the self-doubt that permeates my mind before beginning an essay, but for now I’ll take the uncertainty, fragments, and challenges in efforts to cultivate a greater sense of who I am.

From Professor Elisabeth Whitehead


Lyric Essay

“The lyric essay allows for the moments of pause, the gaps, the silence. The fragmentation feels correct to the piece: it allows for the moments of “not knowing,” the unspoken words that seem truer than anything I could ever say aloud.”

–Brenda Miller

For your third project, write a lyric essay. It might be helpful to consider the lyric essay as a hybrid form that doesn’t follow a traditional narrative approach. Though difficult to define, we might think of the lyric essay as a joining of the essay, that perhaps leans more toward argument or story, and the lyric (coming from the word lyre) perhaps concerned more with the music of language, with tone, and with imagery. Or perhaps we can think of the lyric essay as interaction between poetry and prose; a form that is not quite poetry and not quite prose. According to Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, the lyric essay favors “fragmentation and imagery; they use white space and juxtaposition as structural elements. They are as attuned to silences as they are to utterance.” The lyric essay’s resistance to definition is part of its great beauty and strength.

This project will require your willingness to experiment and to take risks in your writing. Here are some options that might be helpful to consider: 1. Use any of our authors as models for your essay. 2. Write a Collage, Hermit Crab, Braided, or Prose Poem essay.  3. See the end of “The Lyric Essay” by Miller and Paola for exercise ideas. 4. Create your own form. Form or structure will be an important part of your “argument” or rhetorical choice in this essay.

Although the lyric essay may seem to differ significantly from the other forms we have worked with this semester, it has similar considerations: to reach and connect with an audience, to move beyond an intimate telling to connect with others on a more universal level, to explore the uniqueness of your own voice, to use form in an engaging way, to practice skills of observation, analysis, and precision of language. Bernard Cooper says of the lyric essay, “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.” Keep this in mind as you begin your work!

Professor Commentary

One of Allison’s great strengths as a writer is her fluidity, the ability to move between forms, as well as her willingness to play in those wavy boundaries between forms. Here the work becomes hard to pin down or categorize. It cannot be contained, boxed, summarized, or explained away. It is difficult to define. Instead, we as readers have to look at the work with eyes that are new, with no preconceived notions, and open ourselves to the writing as it unfolds in front of us.

And it does unfold, with thin lines of transitions, and unexpected turnings, as the author opens herself to a new place of understanding. She uses her writing not just as a way to communicate her experience, but also as a way to begin to understand what it is she believes. It is a journey towards home and of recognizing home within herself. As such, it is not, and cannot be, a smooth journey. Text is sometimes contained, sometimes it spreads itself out on the page. Sometimes it is centered, other times it edges over to the margins. Short lines, extended lines, end stopped or enjambed lines, caesuras, words that drip down, standardized punctuation and capitalization, and then this too is lost. In the end, this essay, which is open to exploration, to figuring it out, to experimentation, feels cohesive and complete.

Also significant, is that this piece, which reflects on a failed relationship, is really a love story between a mother and daughter. The author’s own tenderness for her mother is evident here. The mother is described as having a shining and transparent quality in her unconditional love for her daughter, in her attention and carefulness of daily tasks. She would never buy a sweet potato casserole, unlike the author’s lover, but instead carefully sprinkles the cinnamon and sugar, watches the temperature so it doesn’t burn, holds the warm pan with her bare hands. She expresses joy in finding sameness between them (“look, Allison, we have the same fingers!”) And through the strength of this relationship, the author, as a young woman, begins to make sense of and to define what she knows about love and herself, and to discover her own strength and capacity to love.

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