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 runs every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
In my family,
giving knives is bad luck.
Knives cut connections.
Blood the knife
or give to lose.
Opinels are camping knives.
Single-bladed French folding knives, very sharp.
Last Christmas, we each got our own Opinel.
Mine was blue, its wooden handle an innocent indigo.
I don’t know what to do with mine.
I keep it somewhere safe in case I go camping alone and need it,
but I don’t go camping alone.
Except there was one time when I was in my 20s.
My one-eyed dog and I started up a trail,
only to be driven back by the opening day of hunting season.
The first time I ever spent the night by myself
was in the apartment
and the guy in the brown ski-mask
climbed in the unlocked window
in the dead hours.
I don’t remember clearly,
but I think it was a silver clasp knife.
So I don’t know what to do with this knife,
hidden in the far left corner of the top drawer of my dresser,
behind the panties and camisoles,
beside the cotton handkerchiefs.
I keep it where I hide gifts before I give them,
sure that no one would want to look in my underwear drawer,
as though even the children would know
there should be some places
no one would ever go.
A folding knife among the intimates.
I could be underwater.
What’s inside is out,
the air irradiated.
My legs draw up the silk.
I am a human pendulum
but it’s the globe that’s spinning
comet dust everywhere.
Letting go seems improbable
but gravity turns out not to be
a permanent state of affairs, and I do.
Left to swing amidst aged oaks
spreading rumors of other
aerialists: there was the young lad
who did a deadly jig and the aged
midwife who hung so lightly and long.
I loose my hair and it tickles their roots
while their arms shed spirals of helicopters,
empire’s confetti, as I reach for the knot,
slip the yoke as easy as a newborn
spools into cottonwood ash.
Her serve is 125 miles an hour
but she cannot outrun this.
She has won, has published,
but she cannot out-write this.
She has starred, has danced,
but she cannot out-twirl this.
She has flown, sung, and swam,
released from parallel bars &
stuck a vault without stutter
but always the eclipse awaits.
Anomaly: when a thing happens that
the accumulated data cannot validate.
You tell yourself: this is not life threatening.
You tell yourself: you can afford to raise or bluff.
You tell yourself: you can enunciate yourselves out.
The talented tenth assembles a league of doulas.
They edge the black of their capes with starlight.
None of this helps. None of this will save you.
How to Avert a Duel in the Hotel Lounge
In our marriage’s infancy of paper and metal
I learned you are slow to anger. I can push far
beyond most men’s tolerance and be forgiven,
yet you can hold a grudge against a toddler,
whose rejection will never let you go. So
when an acquaintance touches my shoulder
and a curtain drops like a guillotine over
your eyes I taste blood in my mouth—
the metallic bite makes me glance at my glass
of Cabernet, its viscosity impenetrable in the
bar’s backlight. In his impertinent wake, the type
of woman who turns heads—hers is shaved,
a bronze globe embedded with eyes of shattered
sea glass—steps between us, cinching our square
tight with her perfume: crushed dogwood petals
with a base note of rot. By turns, the press
of bodies astonishes the mixologists. How
unquenchable the thirst of writers. How
it is rumored the last conference shuttered
the bar once the last whiskey was poured.
With a half-embrace, she reaches around,
retrieves her scotch and soda, and swallows it
so fast my stomach cramps. Distracted, I miss
the green bottle in your fist. Moments later,
a dark spill glazes his forehead like ganache.
The two of them repel apart. This violence
that holds our vows fitfully together.
Skin Without Yours
I am skin and I am not skin.
Skin all over.
Skin as palette for time.
Skin tight and skin shedding.
Skin wherever you go.
Skin skin skin and only two eyes.
Skin if you are cold.
Skin if you brush past a cactus in the cold.
Skin as a conversation starter.
Skin as finding your way out of water.
Skin for him and him and him.
Skin that day under the red tennis skirt and his bass voice and fingers like strings or spikes or something else that cuts.
Skin without spikes.
Skin I don’t remember.
Skin when you were six.
Skin so blind no one could remember.
Skin melting into other skin in stories told on green benches in September.
Skin that feels one-way, and skin that feels another.
Skin finding skin.
Skin as a promise made to a man on an olive rug.
Skin as turning pages.
Skin as blank page.
Skin throbbing with truth.
Skin because you’ve got to learn what home is.
Skin because WELCOME HOME.
Skin because you had to ask permission.
Skin I said stop.
Skin because I lost.
Skin because it was your voice I loved first.
Skin because I never learned to swim or suck or hide the fear I didn’t invite.
Skin in the dark glows purple.
Skin because teeth alone are too white and hard.
Skin because you have to breathe behind something.
Skin because the blood runs like water on soft soil and you are animal and you have a name.
Skin because I forgot.
Skin because SKIN BECAUSE.
Skin so when you look in the mirror you see.
Skin because your eyes were closed.
Skin because pain needs to be seen.
Skin all the hair is gone.
Skin like sun on water—it leaves.
Skin like it’s not there.
Skin like screaming into a jar or a star or the day after it happened.
Skin me and skin you.
Skin finally there’s no more.
Skin the glass is breaking.
Skin the blue ink is racing.
Skin for every word around the skin.
Skin I learned to pretend I had it.
Skin they left.
Skin I am still here.
Skin we scream alone.
Skin I saw a monster and made it real.
Skin run so fast you outrun your skin.
Skin fall soundless.
Skin for a while longer.
Skin like wings of a fly or the edges of your lies.
Skin at night.
Skin like fifty million small holes to exhale sin.
Skin an accident.
Skin I tried to listen.
Skin I tried not to listen.
Skin love sounds the same as endings.
Skin the monster saw me.
Skin so real.
Skin nothing like truth.
Skin without yours.
What can I tell you
except there is too much
spring already—damp frogs small as grapes
wood hyacinth bright as sugared cereal
fritillaries pink and sad-faced
crocus woozy and bent
dramatic, velvety like a Victorian lady
on a feinting couch, garish and elegant
at the same time as though we cannot
figure out what spring is,
because there’s too much coming up—
which also means too much underneath.
Consider these mud-soaked survivors of April ice and boots.
What have I shoved away in order to let such stalks
bloom skyward? What if instead of bud and blossoms
earth poked out your most terrible loss, your
weak, boneless flower of memory? Imagine
a field of diagnoses, of desertions, of children damaged
by other children or by the world. Imagine
you could mow over each and every ruined stem,
deadhead the daffodils of disaster,
reseed from the beginning just to see
if what grows is the same—
if those dark and bloody roots might grow purple
garish and gorgeous, too, in their new skin,
their complicated spring.
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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