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.
Things That Were Normal
a high school dance where the theme was pimps ‘n hos
the mascot a confederate rebel
buying tall boots at a discount shoe store
spying on dad from its roof
he was missing but I knew where
notes left on yellow legal paper
bringing baby oil to the beach to take off the tar
a big plastic whale
dad setting the fire ant hill on fire
why are you afraid to drink the water
Given: Mr. K at the blackboard writing cursive proofs.
Distributive Property: He was disciplined the next year for groping a sophomore.
Transitive Property of Parallel Lines: I remember her because her skirts were much longer than most of ours.
Given: We wore red plaid skirts.
Given: They could not be more than two inches above our knees.
Triangle Inequality Theorem: We would kneel on the ground to have them measured.
Distributive Property: If your skirt was too short, you had to rip the hem out on the spot.
Additive Property: You were also given detention.
Corollary to the Triangle Sum Theorem: She never had to kneel.
Transitive Property of Parallel Lines: Her skirt was well below her knees.
Substitution Property of Equality: There were no equivalent rules for boys.
Linear Pair Postulate: The Latin teacher yelled at me about my shirt having two buttons undone.
Distributive Property: He was also disciplined for groping a sophomore.
Linear Pair Postulate: So was the soccer coach.
Alternate Interior Angles Theorem: Except she was a freshman.
Additive Property: And he fucked her.
Hinge Theorem: The Rose of Sharon.
Given: It is beautiful and needs no care.
Transitive Property of Parallel Lines: My kind boss has bandages on his wrists.
Multiplication Property of Equality: He explains that his side yard is full of Rose of Sharon.
Subtraction Property of Equality: He had gotten poison ivy cleaning the Rose of Sharon out.
Reflexive Property of Equality: “It’s a weed even if it doesn’t look like one.”
Proven: We distrust hardiness in women.
out the back of a truck,
pulling over quick.
Boys jumping out.
The back of a truck:
usually dirt, that tool—
shaped like part
of a star—a lug wrench.
What else? Cans, a loose
bag, the hitch.
in and out of the woods
behind the house
like a fence.
The house like a wall.
Boys jumping out the back
of a truck
to find something bright
they saw—the turtle’s
the nylon white
of a bra.
I stewed in it, the indignity of
______working three jobs that spring, the spring
____________I was invisible and the shad were running
thick as the seersucker, thick as
______the wristwatches in the country club where I had
____________to say, the special tonight is shad and
shad roe and then serve up
______someone’s liver. They’re a delicacy, the lobe-
____________shaped little egg sacks dredged in flour, flash-
fried with bacon, served over grit
______teeth. They’re delicate. Those wristwatches.
____________We wore white gloves and lined up against
the bar, the fish lined up in
______the kitchen, splayed and split. Not livers.
____________Their egg sacks like lungs. I hated myself
so much that spring I blackened
______my own lungs out back. One reviewer says,
____________she stews in her own self-pity, and I say,
well, at least he gets me. Stew is what
______their great-granddaddies called the bathhouse
____________brothels. She stews in her own juices, that
whore. The special tonight is shad
______and shad roe and if you pinch my ass it
____________will jiggle like a wet lung.
I see your gaslight & now will raise you a scorched earth
– Amber Tamblyn to James Wood, 2017
the last transmission arrives 1 hour and 24 minutes after
the satellite itself is vaporized the speed of sound slower than
the friction slower than the slaughter of the lost tribe
shot by gold miners at the river the space probe was sacrificed
to keep a distant moon’s surface pristine the Plan B
for when we’ve chopped down the last truffula tree
I see your doomed probe &
now will raise you an icy vast
the gold miners just eager for a piece she was sixteen and he said
Vegas it’s fabulous have you ever been? my James Wood was
the middle-aged waiter with a wife and a baby or the professor
I watched his hand on the small of the sophomore’s back
I was schooled silent I was even tugged into his orbit
I see your critically acclaimed collection &
now will raise you a conference registration
and one free drink
I wish I could tell you the birds the trees the bowl
of the sky were getting me through my own icy vast
how many of us the moons how many more the satellites
how many the dust ringing the hydrogen core of
some small man’s darkness
I see your scorched earth &
now will raise my gas can
On domesticity in poetry
What waits for us in the kitchen but
words: butcher and baker and sugar-
cookie maker, suffer through and then
sauté the onions, in winter in summer in
winter again. We break bread. We bake
brownies before we break the bed. In
winter in summer in winter again. We
could starve. We could break each other
and call it art. We could bake each other
cakes, blue-black with char.
The Last Time in Cedarbrook Park
Again you leave your boyfriend’s house and wait in the street for a cab. His mother never invites you to stay for dinner. And you know that. He’s a senior who’ll go off down south for college soon; you’re a freshman who’ll be left behind. You know that too. But here you are anyway standing under dim streetlights in a coat not heavy enough to block the biting wind. Your cab finally arrives, the muffler grumbles, the door squeals on its hinges. The black vinyl seats are ripped, the foam stuffing escapes from holes where the fabric has worn thin. The cab smells greasy, and you imagine there must be old takeout bags piled in the front seat. You give the driver your address. In the rearview mirror, you can see the driver’s eyes. You meet his gaze, and your stomach hurts a little bit. You remind yourself that you haven’t eaten dinner yet. The cab ambles along side streets. You could (should) be going faster—the speed limit is 25 mph. You just want to be home now, laundry waits, you still have homework, maybe your mother has cooked tonight. The driver misses a turn that you’ve taken pretty much every time you’ve gone home from here. Granted you’re going all the way to the other side of town—there are plenty of combinations of streets that will get you to the east end. You wipe sweaty hands on your jeans. You look out the window: no one’s sitting on a porch, no one’s getting into a car, no one’s walking a dog. No one. The tire hits a pothole, the cab creaks and shakes. The driver is looking at you again. You think you know all the streets in this city—it’s always been your home—but when you look out the window, you don’t know where you are. It’s dark. The cab jolts around a corner, pulls to the side of the road. The driver grips the gear shift on the steering column, clicks into “park”… why are we stopping… the thought has not even crystallized in your mind before you’re out the door running into the darkness. The ground feels too soft beneath your feet, with each step you’re sinking, so you try to not let your feet touch the ground at all. Dodge the trees that appear out of nowhere, vague shadows in your path. Like an animal, you run towards the light. You’re choking on your own breath, a kind of screaming. You make it to the street, someone else’s neighborhood, and you wonder if you ring a doorbell, will someone let you use their telephone? Headlights! So you duck into the nearest backyard behind the garbage bins. And this is what you do: duck, hide, weave, scurry, until you make it downtown where at least there are stores, lights, and traffic. You want to get on the bus, but you realize you have no money. What happened to your bag? You’re afraid to ask a stranger for bus fare—you might owe them something. You walk home on Front Street, hoping your mother is out looking for you. When you finally make it to your block, you can breathe again because you’re safe. Or at least you think you are.
A frenzy of birds descends
on the feeder outside the window
rush of feathers, eager pecking
nourishment of seed
So much remains unsaid
shut doors, retreat
a primitive love
intruders at the locked front door.
Outside, neighborhood children
kick a deflated red ball up the street
the hollow thud rams
against their laughter.
A door opens.
If I turn around
me to vacuum dog hair
like a good wife should
fix what is always broken.
My finger traces patterns
on the glass
the stake in the ground
the outline of the feeder
a limb of the pine tree nearby.
The landing of a titmouse
its jovial eyes
the bob of its head
summons a rein
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
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.
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