Womanhood as Blood, Wine, Gasoline, and the Sea

Detroit Annie, Hitchhikingin The Work of A Common Woman presents Annie’s state of being, history, and her womanhood through the symbolism of liquids and the solid matters that contain such liquids.

Annie’s interiority as a woman is first represented by blood and “the reddest wine.” This interiority of hurt and façade, respectively, arises from the discontent of her female upper-class background. She is (dis)placed by others in the ostentatious appearance of a “velvet hat with great/dangling black feathers.” She is as “common/as the reddest wine,” another signifier of her supposed bourgeoise taste. Her mind, at first, is equated to “cut-glass,” a crystal solid matter that is chiseled into, to fit the constraints of her background. Annie “carelessly handle[s]” her glass-chiseled mind, which results in her words pouring out like blood from a “broken/artery” (literally broken here by the enjambment; artery likely broken by the “carelessly handled” glass). Her “cut-glass” mind becomes the shell that holds both the “reddest wine” (her upper-class façade) and the blood of her words (her pain caused by being female and bourgeoise). The red hue of blood and wine is indistinguishable, which constitutes her abject womanhood.

Then Annie seeks to change: by removing herself from her “frozen” status quo, by going “to the docks and dances” into more vast and clearer water, and by “hitchhiking.” This hitchhike takes place on a large body of water as well, like the sea, where “fishermen” find themselves looking for fish. They think Annie is fish because of her intimate relationship with water. These men become “danger” and predators, who seek to capture her. But they are “fools” and unable to, because she is constantly “in motion” and has learned to fend for herself by transforming into another form of liquid: “gasoline.” Gasoline is clearer, more diluted from the thickness and from the red hue of blood and wine; it is also more flammable and so people must be careful with it, with her. While her interiority changes into a tougher, defensive liquid of womanhood, it still requires a shell to protect it, i.e. fire. She must “light” the gasoline that is herself to effectively enact the fireful defense before “danger,” before men. Fire doesn’t burn the gasoline or with it but burns on top of it.

Finally, the hitchhiking in the open water has once more transformed her liquid into seawater, freer and vaster womanhood. Having fended off the fishermen, now she leaves the taste of “salt and iron” under “your tongue.” This second person “you,” or us the readers of the poems here, has witnessed their false illusion of Annie to her metamorphoses,  from her literal “shav[ing] her head” to the taste of her saltlike interior and iron exterior.

Nonetheless, Annie’s altering forms of liquids do not separate from one another but all connect together like a body of water, for the tense of the poem remains the present tense throughout all these metamorphoses. Her interior state moves and merges blood, the reddest wine, with gasoline and seawater, moves and merges hurt, constraint, with defense, with the vast interiority of “salt” water. However, all these different interiorities cannot exist on their own but shielded by glass, fire, and iron. The poem still begins and ends with her blood and wine state as a frame that still constrains her. Annie cannot achieve complete liberation from her background or the persecution of her womanhood. She must always keep guard of herself by imposing a shell to protect her womanhood.

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