ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women, trans, and nonbinary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series runs weekly, most often on Tuesday afternoons. Each week, we will highlight different voices and stories.
Philomel at Midlife Confronts Her Attacker
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Who has been dead now twelve years.
His life was not one to envy,
his children dead, his body wasted and frail.
He stole her voice, her body, her story, her tongue.
Even now she still has nightmares, clawing
at the bare wooden walls with her fingers in her sleep.
Her sister never sings anymore.
We visit his grave, leave no flowers,
on a grim grey day full of rain in November.
She kicks the stones, stirs the dirt.
Her bright feathers have dimmed.
How can anyone have spring inside them after?
This story is sad, and this world tired
of hearing it. Why does she keep telling it?
Why can she not stop herself from weaving
the story, the dark night, her all alone,
his body against hers, the blood?
We could not stop it, she writes to her sister.
You could not have stopped it.
Crimes often ignored when committed
by kings or Gods. Just the women
left with children and their broken shells,
their broken bodies, broken lives. Do not weep,
my sister, she wants to say, but can’t.
So many lives by this one criminal’s grave:
her own, her sister, the murdered child.
No matter how we mourn,
we cannot have back our childhood dancing,
how they were before their bodies were broken.
She cannot have it back. She is no longer bitter,
but she cannot stop thinking – here, in the dark night,
what would she find if she looked in the corners,
in the eyes of a frightened girl? How many like her?
Is there any way to break this story, common
as the swallows darting through the air at dusk?
Why is it the world never sees or hears her,
just another accuser,
not the avenging angel,
never with the sword in her hand?
HOW IS A RIVER LIKE A WOMAN THE POETS WANT TO KNOW
It is like a woman in that you can sail down it in a large skiff delivering goods for manufacturing and resale.
Like a woman in that it contains layers and layers of animals, its own ecosystem containing very very large fish and very very small fish.
Organisms like otters, turtles, ducks, dragonflies, crabs, catfish, trout, cattails, bulrushes, algae, moss, shrimp, crayfish, mayflies, stoneflies, beetles, frogs, eels, mullets, mollys, snails, worms, and mollusks are endemic.
Like a woman in that its floodplains deposit nutrient-rich soil surrounding its banks, priming the region for agriculture.
In that it was and is used as a natural highway, carrying tugboats, canoes, skiffs, rowboats, johnboats, trimarans, steamboats, scows, ferries, airboats and others.
In that subterranean rivers carve a system of caves inside the earth and contain organisms that are adapted just for them, which never see the light of day.
They are called troglobites, those organisms.
Yes, yes. Some rivers never
reach the light of day.
The things men say to you when they’re like that.
By “like that” I mean
over top of you, which, I guess,
could be a metaphor, too.
They could never say it
to my face, so having
so effectively, they go ham. The things they say
they say alone too,
some woman’s face on the screen
and they say it, their mouths opening wide, gasping,
to make room
for the birth of their secret hearts.
Tasting the metal, he
pukes it up, his secret heart,
has to release the muscle in his jaw
to get it all out.
The things men say to you
when they’re like that:
his boiling exactness—
this stunk-up self. Stunk-up
in that he’s ruined it, like a shoe. It’s boiling, that exactness—
he spits it on to you.
Elizabeth Gets the Pox, Smashes Every Mirror in the Palace
Emily Van Duyne
Imagine a girl: an unborn
country: the metaphor, a meal:
I want to lick the platter
clean: I see myself
at 17: Gloriana Regina: the Virgin
Queen: greenwood ripe to split:
Desire: I’m full of it:
As a white woman in the academy, this metaphor presents a problem I must address before I can move on. The failure to note that Gloriana Regina, Queen Elizabeth I, was both a woman unique for her time, given the threat to her life and the power she wielded, and a colonizer, would be a fatal error, here. And I need this money.
I write my innocence at 17—
(the virgin bed – the shit-
show – Reader, the rape
didn’t happen then, just the typical
terrible teenage sex, and after,
he left, and I, consumer of many
fine books with lost maidenheads,
looked & saw the telltale
blood – I stripped
the sheets & waved them
from the window –
where were the trumpeters?
The men in feathered hats?
My boyfriend is thirsty
last night he was in Jersey)
I write myself a lady-in-waiting—
(a woman about to be
raped, a woman about to be
a raped woman: March 18
is not a night, but a door—
Reader, the key: Define
courtly love. Imagine
a card game: a real
tight rope: If he croons I am wounded
by love pluck the card
with twin snakes wound round
the staff, eagles’ wings—
But sir, they say the wound can also play
the cure Sure. Whatever. Just don’t
dime me out: I said play I meant
a game I meant the cards the lute
I didn’t know the tongue’s gold thread
was held by some Tudor brute
stashed in a tapestry. The more
I speak the more he yanks until
I am a woman on a wire. Walk, bitch.)
Like all good white women in academe, I note a flaw in my analysis, ditch it. You know the deal: out with girlfriends, find some dude, leave with him. Why?
It worked until it didn’t, until I found the man in breach of contract. Or he found me:
If I was an unborn country, was I /
Virginia before its name?
If I was an unborn country, was I /
the rocks and stones and trees?
When raped women file /
suit they lose their names, gain
their rape. The pronouns /
stick, the letters fall: take her and cut her
out like little stars: I am a woman /
with sharp shears and a slice
of paper: it reads Mary then /
M., Hunter then H. //
Even D. would lose her arrow & bow!
Actaeon’s pledged Alpha Gamma Rho
How many packs of deer roamed the unknown
forests? How many women
laid their names to rest? I can’t be the colonized—
I’m not the queen. I am a no-good green-
wood girl, lost not in the forest, but stuck
on the ship, snipping letters
from your name: when the suits were filed
(when the suits piled up like glass shards—
when the queen moved from room
to room with a mace to keep herself from her
pockmarked face—) I wondered: who else?
Who says nothing? Who has no money? Whose roots
are in the unnamed woods? I think I know. But
lawks-a-mussy on me, this is none of I.
WHAT DO I CALL IT
I don’t know what to say when you tell me,
This is how you write a rape poem. I’ve never written
a rape poem. When I wrote that he bent me over the bed,
and asked for permission (x 5), I finally gave it.
He handled my body like an uncooperative machine, but
continued to use it. He didn’t want the machine to remain
new, untouched. Is that what you meant?
Because if I were the machine, then I do not know
what rape is. The machine said yes into the bedspread—
it let him slip the dick into the anus and the cry of grief
was mistaken for pleasure.
When his semen continued down my leg
and I locked myself in the childhood bathroom
where I first learned to shit in a toilet and stuck a finger
in the hole to find the source of pleasure and relief,
where I was taught what permission is
from my dead mother, who said
you must ask and ask again to be sure, my grief wasn’t
a song or a tape or a poem of rape.
It wasn’t the same as being used
in an alley and left for dead behind a dumpster.
It wasn’t being drugged and taken
to a strangers home
and waking up,
pant suit unbuttoned
in a stranger’s bed.
He was a friend. He pushed me
on the swing at my neighborhood park. He kissed me
with a hand around the waist and another
at the throat. He held my hand
on the way home in his father’s truck, after the not-rape and I let him.
Even when he texted me: it’s over, the bruises still on my hips
like pieces of black tape that I couldn’t remove,
it still wasn’t a rape. So it couldn’t have been a rape poem.
It can’t be if he gave me all that.
WHEN WILL IT END
Tadpoles swim in the lake. Soon
they will be dominated by frogs who leap
into the streets and wait as gargoyles in the gutter.
Bees pollinate nearby and hum
like lawnmowers in pollen doused air.
My mother-in-law dropped by today.
Your father kicked me out, she said.
If I had stayed, he would have continued to kick me.
Male lovebugs overtake their mate in the air,
and levitate over peaks of grass, or bump
struggling bodies against my shins.
As a child, I remember sneaking from my room
for a glass of milk. Mom hunched in the hallway
on her knees, with tears sprayed out in a hula-hoop.
I sat beside her. I never knew what to say.
I took her curled hand in mine and waited beside her until
she led me back to bed. He scratched my face,
she tells me and I imagine the marks that are covered
in a bandaid, like bark dug from the base of a tree—
Mom’s face broken out in red streaks. The next morning
I’d always see a dozen roses smirking from the table.
The news tells us:
domestic violence is at an all-time high
because of coronavirus. But I know it’s not that.
My husband and I don’t talk about our mother’s.
I know that he would never hit me, but I’ve seen
the holes that he created in the wall of our apartment.
When he looks at me and says,
You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and cries
when he hugs his hurt mother, I know that we can do this.
We plan our next move together—hoping
that our violent history can be rewritten.
Work on Paper
She’s a piece. A slicer. Goes
And inked. Flexi
as an acrobat.
Sharp as a plane. She’s
your mile high
club and your
mile, your doll you
can do anything to.
Light comes through
her light combs
her hair. She’ll slice
your lips to shreds
go soft in your mouth.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women, trans, and nonbinary 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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