Each day from January 7 through January 20, Rumpus Original Poems will feature work in response to the coming presidential inauguration. Today’s poem is from Lynn Melnick.
For a while I wore baggy earth tone clothes because the last man I loved would strike me in the face if anyone looked at me so all my clothes were too big until one day I thought, you know what, no one is hitting me in the face right now, I’m going to buy this red dress from a mass market store, I’m going to spend money I don’t
have to do it, and so I did, and I went to a party on one of the Avenues feeling fancy and looking sexy and my friends were there and there was a balcony that wrapped around a corner and overlooked Central Park and people complimented me and my dress while I drank wine and I think there was coke; if there was coke I did that too.
One of our group was a man I’ll call S. who people thought was handsome in a James Dean way I guess if James Dean had lived past when James Dean had lived and had accrued enough alcohol in his liver that his skin had that kind of gray, puffy look alcoholics might get although S. was only around 30 at the time. We left the party
to go to a second location and somehow it was only the two of us in the cab, me and S. Although I remember saying to a friend, please ride with us, I get how things happen when people are divvied up amongst cabs. Cabs are fancy and decisions have to be made and there was probably coke and S. always got just what S. wanted.
In the cab, S. kept trying to move in on my mouth with his mouth and so I turned away, and he was okay with that, I think he didn’t realize that was a no, only that he kept missing. Look at you, he said. In that dress. Don’t you know I have a girlfriend? I did know and sometimes I felt sorry for her because, even if he didn’t strike her in
the face, S.’s skin was kind of gray for 30 and she seemed to tend to him the way I imagined 1950’s women tended to their partners, helping them out of their shoes when drunk, emptying the ashtrays while they typed their tragic and male American wonderpieces. The next thing I knew, S. dove at me, his hand quick between my legs.
I think it probably took a moment for me to realize what was going on, as often happens when a man is sexually assaulting me, so before I knew it his fingers were on my vulva and if he’d been less drunk and more coordinated his fingers would have been inside me but luckily he was clumsy and not fully committed to the action
and when I went to move his hand away he let me move his hand away. I made some light chatter in the cab to keep him occupied until we got to the second location and it was only when we arrived there that I allowed myself to feel anything at all, though I couldn’t tell you what it was I felt as I still don’t know what it was that I felt.
I think I waited to tell anyone what had happened but S. continued to follow me around the second location, a friendlier one really, my friend’s apartment, until my friend kicked him out for hounding me, and I was relieved and grateful, and embarrassed about my sexy body in my red dress. My friend walked a very drunk
and always gray S. to the subway where he passed out and rode the #2 line from the Bronx to Brooklyn back to the Bronx back to Brooklyn all night long and someone stole his wallet because how could they not and then the story became poor S. got so drunk his wallet was stolen! and he’s really a very disturbed genius, someone help him!
My friend said I should talk to him so I went to his place of work, which was behind a desk outside an art gallery and the chair faced sideways so I had to turn my body to face him. I said, Do you remember what happened? and he said no and I said, you grabbed my pussy in the cab and he said, Well come on! Don’t act like you’re not
always flirty and seductive and I tried to quietly sort out if I was always flirty and seductive. I ended up apologizing to S. saying I’m sorry you had to leave the party and that your wallet got stolen and he said it’s okay, though he avoided me after that and told our friend that he couldn’t respect me because I’m not a serious enough person.
– Lynn Melnick
Lynn Melnick is author of Landscape with Sex and Violence (forthcoming, 2017) and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), both with YesYes Books, and co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015). She teaches poetry at 92Y in NYC and serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.