ENOUGH: Once You’re Trapped, You Lose the Game

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ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.

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Pantoum of the Men Who Got Mad
Olivia Olson

The one in the bar who whispered he wanted her
to leave with him, hooked fingers around her
elbow and pulled her wingspan splayed and aching.
No thank you soft as ember. The next, who insisted

she escape from his hooked fingers around her
wrist, vine-bound and brittle. Let’s see you get out of this one.
No thank you, soft as ash. The next who insisted:
swept to a bent knee, raised his arm, his

wrist, a vine winding brittle (get out of this one)
to the split. So so sorry. She moved back home. Talked frozen
when the next swiped a bent knee, raised a thick fist.
Skin like storm clouds gathering until the soft sky

split. So so sorry. She couldn’t move. Backtalked, frozen
bitch. The word like some sick mist against her
skin. Storm clouds, then the softening.
Stopped only when she finally blocked him.

Bitch, the word like sickness but missed again,
seemed like nothing until, scared of what she couldn’t see
(but hadn’t stopped) she finally unblocked him
and watched the bitches echo up from the pitch.

Seemed like nothing later when, scared of what she couldn’t see
just beyond the corner of her midnight eyesight, walking, alone,
she heard bitch echo from the cold, black pitch
and everything– tree/pavement/bitch/echo/bitch– cringed.

 

Learning the Rules

Chess is in, so start learning. Do-overs till you get it,
but then you’re on your own. Take a break. Make up
girl-food bags of carrots and celery. Learn to croak like Demi,
damaged to cool. Wing liner on the weekends. Smudge color
to the crease. Move a piece wrong, move it back.
Shape Tape if you have it. Fake it if you don’t. If your mom
takes your makeup, camphor burns lips plump and red. If they take
your queen, you’re dead. Weekdays for T-shirts and top
knots. Dresses for try-hards. Clock says five, listen
for his sloppy scratching. Hear it and run
to your room. The king’s so weak, but when he’s out, you’re
screwed. Wedge a shoe under the door. Keep forgetting
how the pawns attack. Watch the knight. Watch for light
snapped on. A matte lip is cute but metallic’s
for whores. Once you’re trapped, you lose
the game. Step side by side. Step out of the way. Do
what the rules say and keep playing.

*

Horoscope: For the Month of Fire in the Sky
Sage

You will place a lilac-root crown
on your brow, call it progress

from the tears that come nightly,
that come fresh under fists.

You are allowed to say
beautiful fists. You are

allowed to rip skin and bruise
the hands that bruise. Rain is

a collision of two lonely energies
in the stratospheric distance from hurt.

At the end of all events there is
everything left over and truth.

Why did you stop wanting
to be an astronaut?

Your future is in the rocket,
in constellations of blue light

so far from him.

 

Putting on Emily Dickinsons Clothes
for Emily Dickinson, to Billy Collins

Emily,
he undressed
you for every man
after him. you just wanted
to be a fly on a wall. he thought
that meant you would shed your clothes
to inhabit your fly body and he was welcome
into that private moment. across the cafe from me
is the man who did it. Emily, I’m trying to remember
what you said about death: something-something-it was
better than his fingers on my body? crawling and groping
and undressing me like a toy he picked up in the sex shop in LAX.
Emily, I want to give you your clothes back but he still has them. it’s my
word against his; it was your word against his. Emily, would anyone listen
to me if I said his hands didnt feel right on my skin? did anyone listen to your
protests when he undressed you for every man after him when you just wanted to be
a fly on the wall, when you just wanted to be a girl in the fields, you just wanted to feel
safe in your room, to pick at wallpaper and light its edges and watch it curl and curl and burn.

*

Juveniliac
Willa Carroll

Retrograde through voids / cherry the score / I’m Lolita in a Honda / obliging my elder / feeding me orange sherbet / with his menthol fingers / Blondie on the radio / sings in solidarity / I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No / as my tricky mentor / charmer of my mother / unzips / pulls my head to his lap / enters the dark / theater of my mouth / while behind the dials / a tiny Bowie struts / howling vowels / riding diamond dogs / blowing fog / through the speaker’s holes / filling the car / parked in a broad / daylight

 

Dear Tormentor

Epistle detonates
its body, cries no
fire in the theater.
Deploys smoke machines,
decoy trees, decades of fog.
Why did I apologize
for your skinny missive,
shoved in my mouth?
Spotlight, please––
on your cock of the walk,
your slippery zipper.
Epistle demands
you wait backstage,
dressed in shreds
of fireproof curtains,
sucking your brandy,
purpled with age,
while I flick the match,
my Dear Mentor.

 

Mammal vs. Reptile

Throws his cat into the lake,
calls her a wet rat. Gifts my mother,
his lover, a shiner. Lends me squirrel hair

paintbrushes & a postcard of Gorky’s
The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb, praising
pictorial language. Tackles me to dirt

& moose shit in Algonquin
by the shore, pinning my wrists
while I kick like a horse.

Son of a Buffalo steel mill worker,
builds a castle for wild mice, slips me
capfuls of peppermint schnapps,

paints his living room purple.
Praises his cat’s namesake––
Isadora Duncan­­, radical & barefoot

mother of modern dance,
strangled by her long silk scarf
caught in the wheel of an old Bugatti.

His Isadora begs on hind legs,
leaves snakes­­­ as presents––
headless, thrashing by the door.

*

A Car Crash: Real and Reimagined
Ashley Baldwin

If I had to guess the number
Of times I have spilled my guts-
Pen to paper
I would guess ten thousand, two hundred, and fifty-five,
But that is a rough estimate.

I used to write about boys in bands:
Two musicians who broke my heart in two
Very different ways.
The first one didn’t know any better,
But I wrote a poem about
The gate that smashed through my passenger window
Leaving a permanent scar on my car
And a boy, who was that gate—
He left a permanent scar on my heart—

And isn’t that beautiful?

I should have known then
it would get worse,
That there would be another:
The kind of car crash
That you don’t walk away from.
The sound of
crushing metal and screeching tires—
Followed by the quietest sound
Of your heart breaking into two clean pieces.

If you trust someone with
Your heart, they
Lay you bare
And tell you you’re beautiful
With their hands on your skin
All of the places you don’t want
Their hands on your skin.

He was far too old to be
Flirting with a teenager,
But I stupidly pictured
A life with him
In his Los Angeles apartment,
A life where I would
Stitch his scars back together
And fix his broken pieces,
I’d save him, even if he broke me.

He called me doll.

I should have known better:
You cannot give a new life
To a snake
Whose fangs release too much
Poison
There is no
Remedy
Once it gets into your system,
No antivenin.
You cannot put your whole being
In the hands of the first person
Who made you feel beautiful.
You will be left with
Your heart on the hot asphalt
While the car spits fire—

By the Grace of God
He heard your final
Protest before it was too late.

But it was too late.

Trauma manifests in different ways:
He was the sound of
Crunching metal echoing through
The silent night
He was a ghost
Haunting my every move
I was afraid of the dark
For a long time
But now I close myself away
Until the darkness swallows me whole.

Sometimes I sit in my car
And I wonder how long it would take
For the pain to go away.

I have found that I only write poetry
When my heart feels particularly
Uneven
Like a jigsaw puzzle
That does not fit together
Because there are fourteen different puzzles
And they are all different shapes and sizes
And I am trying to jam the pieces together
And make the best out
Of my cracks and my flaws.

When I begged you to stay
I meant stay, because you are the sane one,
And our kids need stability
And sometimes I worry about my sanity
When I begged you to stay
I meant to say:
I know I am a burden
And you wish you could turn off my “crazy”
But you are the only one
Who has seen me in the dark,
Who has seen my skin stretched thin,
You are the only one who makes me feel
Home again.
You are the only one
Who sees the ghosts that haunt me
And doesn’t turn away:
You stare them down
Unflinching.
I am starting to think
That this is your I love you—
But that is a different poem
Altogether.

I miss them sometimes—
The one who didn’t know better
And the one who
Knew better and took my body in his hands
I think I knew better
Than to trust him
And now, nearly ten years later
I am still waking up screaming
Because his ghost stands over me—
Icy cold fingertips
Touching the places
I don’t want them to touch

Some days
I think I won’t make it
Through in one piece.
Some days I am doing all I can
To survive.
Wandering through
My car crash past
Listening to the
Drum beat of my pulse
So loud in my ears
It drowns out everything else

I am no longer one
But a million pieces.
Maybe someday
I will be able to make sense of these
Pieces.

Someday,
But not today.

***

Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.

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ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change. You can submit to ENOUGH here.

Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.

Visit the archives here.