ENOUGH: My Body Is His Lesson

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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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My Fifth Elegy
Annie Woodford

My daughter has a 2:30 appointment with her pediatrician
and I don’t know how we’ll pay for her second HPV vaccine
when my job ends in May. We have no safety net, no savings
and one really wants to hear about what it means
to be at the bottom of the economic rung. No matter
how much I read I still know my poverty is a referendum on my value.
To make money. To make art. To make any product that matters.
Good things come to those who hustle. I heard a football coach
once said that and I repeat it to my students thought I doubt
its wisdom. I found the following in my neighborhood today:
a pitbull packed with muscle, a white rock big as a bulldog
and shaped like an egg, a pine tree skimmed of all its limbs and dead,
a Ford Probe with a red-eyed wolf painted on its side, a cross
made out of vinyl siding and an iridescent Mary surrounded
by fake flowers, a dirt yard trembling with tree shadows,
red maples tipped by fire, a weeping willow monumental
in its green blaze, a baby shoe abandoned in the grass,
a quince lit from behind, a pear tree full of halos,
a brick house where each brick was painted by hand,
a sycamore of startling white, right when the Grace
Paley story I was listening to mentioned a sycamore, just as the child
I passed on the porch house that’s been condemned and uncondemned
too many times to count asked me if I went to school just when
I was weeping. Just when I was weeping. And she said she loved it.
She loved kindergarten.

 

The Transient Here

My mama has a broken collarbone half
healed up. My aunt had a scar on her throat
right where her silver chain fell. They had to destroy
my thyroid, she always said. My cousin has a long scar
on her back from where the dermatologist traced the root
of a melanoma. My sister-in-law has a divot below her belly button
where her obstetrician finally went in for a c-section.
Once I found a pamphlet about how to wear clothes after
a mastectomy in the drawer of a chest my mother inherited
from her mother, who died sweeping flowers off the carport.
Mama said she used to brush her grandmother’s long gray hair,
blind as she was from the sugar. Today I saw an old dog
I thought long dead chained up, once again, in a neighbor’s yard.
I thought you were a goner, I said. She (or he) barked a raw bell,
good natured as long as I did not get too close,
and rattled the long chain linked from collar to clothesline.

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You Are Beautiful, He Says
Naomi Extra

Cousin Claude has a man watch,
heavy gold face he gently
removes before grazing.
At night the women separate
his rice from his peas, serve
his plantain sizzling, press
his clothes, worship the arrival
of each new hair.

Cousin Claude,
tallest and oldest, says
he is mostly Puerto Rican, says
summertime is when girls can’t keep
their hands off him.

He gathers
the little ones to play in the dark,
says the Cosbys
are just like us.
That is how they made
jello & laughter & love.
Says, let me touch you like I
know   you know    you want.
My body is his lesson.

I am
black, black, black,
so dark only my teeth
show at night, he says
Come on, don’t make noise.

With each creaky step,
I watch Pecola, follow her to the toilet.

 

Burden of Proof

I once read a few pages
of a book titled The Body
Never Lies. My body doesn’t
tell the truth which is why
I am always looking for dis-
ease, rehearsing funerals
in my head where
everyone loves me. Millions
line up, people name things
in my honor. I take all my secrets
to the lovely satin casket.

My therapist
says that Stockholm Syndrome
is when your abuser looks
endearing. Netflix is my
way of returning to the site
of my injuries.

 

Sometimes I Stare At the Trees Right Before a Storm & Think

My
body
feels like a forest,
full of mysterious valleys
and holy fire. My body is a rare
song, open and vulnerable to invasion.
My body is where the endangered sleep at night.

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I’m Still Friends with my Rapist on Facebook
Rachel Sucher

I did not cry; dared not cry;
words caught up somewhere
in the web of me, beneath the skin-on-skin,
the panting. When he was finished,
he invited me downstairs for cola.
I smiled at his mother when we passed her
in the hall. I haven’t seen her since,
just in flashbacks and Facebook posts.
I’m still friends with my rapist on Facebook.
Sometimes, I’ll see a photo of his dog
or a page he (& thirteen other friends) have liked.
Recently, he posted a photo of his new tattoo.
I messaged him (like any other Facebook friend),
told him it was cute, to which he replied thanks,
you’re cute, & I said shut up, you are
as if he hadn’t raped me. He said I miss you
and now we have plans for this Thursday.
The rape was on a Wednesday.
I didn’t shower right away, waited with the smell of him,
didn’t want to be another rape story;
the girl falling into razor blades and hunger,
waiting on a rape kit that will never leave a shelf.
It is such a sad story, such a sad girl.
Such a sad hundreds & thousands & millions of girls
& razor blades & hunger. Of rape kits piled
in a back room with the girls & their razor blades,
with the consent that boys never learned
& their swimming scholarships.
With she was asking for it. He warned her.
We don’t talk about that.
We’re never going to fix rape culture
It’s not my problem. It’s just a women’s issue.
He comes from such a good family
She was flirting with him. Boys will be boys,
she should have (been more careful)
(not worn something slutty)
(had a friend walk her home.)
But he’s such a nice guy
Well, she was drunk. Well, he was drunk.
That doesn’t happen in this family,
doesn’t happen at my school, doesn’t happen
on our team. He has such a bright future
I’m sure they’ll work it out.
He said he was sorry. He didn’t mean to hurt her.

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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.