ENOUGH: This Tongue Knows Survival

By

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.

***

Prism
Laura Murphy

it is orchid season in the hothouses
but the city spirals in a vernal lurching

we take the Bronx express sifting
through uptown neighborhoods

i can’t look at you so i look down
at a patchwork of pansies clinging

to the curb like candy wrappers
yesterday a vicious rain rushed

at our faces, flooded the streets
& seeped through our shoes

today the pansies clutch the soil
& smile shamelessly skyward

as the snowdrops & tulip buds
suffocate in the mud

the gardens are dormant
but for the blanch of an early bloom

i can’t think of anything to say
so i say tree & look up at the pine

you touch my right arm
you tell me that isn’t right

in the hot house the orchids
bare their teeth & bend

the sun towards their faces
i pose in front of the red tongue

of the one that catches flies
by exuding the scent of death

& watch as you feed your loneliness
into the camera and take my picture

*

NASTURTIUM | Tropaeolum tuberosum
Thea Matthews

My tongue almost yanked from my mouth
            this body once colonized
                        the wind in my leaves almost silenced

I nearly pulled each petal before blossom

I was convinced           my pulse was untrustworthy
                                    my nectar ​disdainful
          only worth contemptuousness

but I ​fought back
              held my breath
                       saved my water
                                                         I clenched Earth
                                              bathed in my own nectar
I knew they would
exhaust themselves      & the pain​ would​​ stop.

years later                     I screamed
                                     S         T        O          P

 

SWORD LILY | Gladiolus hortulanus

 

Moments before quietus
the heart races accelerates
lungs propel a gasp
mouth opens      holds the weight of my breath
legs convulse
                                  then suddenly
the bull in charge takes position
             shoves her hooves into steel
                         ferociously yells at me
                                   “Control it! Control it!”
             I can’t.
I scream when I cry.

The body I hold is now a memory
my tears refuse to be complemented
with silence. I scream
& everyone hears the excavation
of grief packed with fat shoved in
            between bone & muscle
& everyone sees the union
            between coral & swords sharpening

Mother?
You see this tongue?

This tongue knows survival
            is not denial of self
                        but the strength of a zealous heart

determined to heal.

*

going south
Megan Hoak

the first time
i flinched
he said, trust me,
this is normal

i wasn’t sure
i believed him, then—
i was too unseasoned
to tell

i only knew i was tired
of feeling
something was wrong
with me

(because i’d been waiting,
unplucked, for so long:
unripened; impossibly green)

so when he pushed me
to the floor
and peeled away my jeans,

grasping at my tender flesh
and fingering segments of me,

i ignored the tightness
in my chest
and fought the urge
to flee

i thought,
this is normal,

and blinked back tears
as he sucked the juice out of me

 

conviction

am i
allowed
to call it
rape
if i didn’t know
how to say

no

if the word hung,
wriggling,
as i tried
not to choke?

is it
ok
to say

i was forced

if i nodded
my head in agreement,
if i didn’t resist
the hangman’s kiss

for fear
of the tightening rope?

*

Words We Lacked
Alison Luterman

The guy who did my hair when I was young,
just your average wolf in tight pants and a gold chain,
used to rock his bulging crotch against my wrists
as they rested on the arms of his beauty chair.
He made deft small talk: “How’s school?”
“You have a boyfriend yet?”
so no one else would notice. Only I could feel
the softness in his slacks becoming harder
as he rocked and snipped.
I was scared to move my hands away,
afraid that then he’d know I knew.
How can I explain to young women now
how few words we had for anything?
That was the year I was fourteen,
the year it kept happening
and happening: the old Greek man
who worked the cafe at Arlington Heights
where my mother and I waited for the bus;
she chatted with the wife behind the counter
while he grabbed my face for a kiss,
sticking his tongue in my mouth
like a cobra striking, so fast and hard
I was too shocked to cry out.
I didn’t know then how a predator will lie in wait,
looking like part of the landscape,
ever alert for an opening.
I was a girl, I was openness itself,
trying to make sense of whatever the world
was trying to tell me.

***

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.