ENOUGH: Sorry I’m Fine No Thank You
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.
on this bus
on this bus
silhouettes of a standing a sitting
by the time i listened
i missed the ripping sound of her fabric
the dress she wasn’t wearing
holding her water bottle as her protector
next to me
the man’s wet cackles fingering her whitening knuckles
words came back on this bus too fast too slow
Smell of his raspy taunt
Smell of his strangled spits
Next stop Castro
Smell of his triumph third leg
Please hold on
Smell of his own jokes
forgot i too was naked & just as regarded
by the time i listened i missed the noisy pain of my skeleton
bend-aid i had no place for holding nothing as my protector
opening the door i was told the choice was mine
words came back on this bus too sharp too blur
Blue of my cheeks
spoiled of detergent dreams
Rage of inarticulate shivers
sorry i’m fine no thank you
forgot she too was boxed & labeled
only to be shipped to the next stop
no wrapping no fancy gift-bags no good-byes
we all knew her fault my fault
words came back on this bus too crowded too quiet
her fear my anger her reddening cheeks my shameful Nos
his upside down howl matched her standing gaze
her tongueless chitchat only too loud too clear
by the time I listened i missed my air
on this bus
pieces of sinful blood
if i could take apart the sky unwrap it completely
color of stone of moon of river of rainbow
pieces of tears of bright of wait of laughter
would tell stories of collapsing breadcrumb trail to the beginning of Alice’s rabbit hole
if i could dig deep into that hole belongs not to me completely
color of broken bones of sinful blood of lies of last night
pieces of silver foxes dancing just so
i thought i hear echo stories of holding that umbrella alone
yet storms upon i wonder
who stands the chance to watch the breathing scenery develops under the gazing sun
muffled ears i knew not to look back
for the ever drying film cries into my arms
for the fair of blameless screen drapes over the cloud
i could never take apart the sky
for it stamps shine inside my soul
blowing out the sun
They always want to meet
for coffee and give me advice
I didn’t ask for. Pick my brain,
they say, offering a buffet
of luscious fruits beneath their dandruff-
peppered scalps, or the sweet briny fat
of an oyster in its shell, a precious thing
to crack into, delicately sucking out
a morsel of wisdom. How generous.
I’ve already had coffee, but I buy a cup
for something to do with my hands
and shift my eyes to. I wear a large black sweater
so he won’t think of me like that
or think I want him to, but still I see
my beauty reflected back to me
in his dull stare and know he thinks himself
smarter for having noticed it.
I try not to judge though when I do
I’m always right. I tell myself
just awkward, how his gaze floats unfocused
away from my face. I know
the type. His head swells with the phrase,
What I would say. He strokes his unevenly-
trimmed beard and tells me You’ll do great
like I don’t know I will. Now when I do
he’ll pat himself on the back
of the ill-fitted tweed jacket his mother bought him
for being such a good, accomplished man.
Even on campus, afternoon, public,
I know all my exits, keep one eye
on my watch and mention the important thing
I have to get to, pages I need to print.
He offers to send me his syllabus.
Only Dead Fish
There are things we grow out of so awkwardly
it hurts to look at, like bangs that turn
to wayward mismatched chunks wrestled
inadequately down by bobby pins, or the time
I went to El Sombrero, a Mexican place
in the East Village that didn’t card
with my friends from high school and a friend
visiting from college and we filled up on pitchers
of the city’s worst margaritas, and a deranged
woman called me ex New Yorker. That night
I kissed a boy who wouldn’t have wanted
to kiss me in high school. I never considered
whether I wanted to kiss him till his tongue
was darting into mine like a bumper car,
slick and hard, quick like he knew
I’d change my mind. At my parents’ apartment
after the bar, we’d all watched The Daily Show
where they played a clip of Sarah Palin saying,
“Only dead fish go with the flow,” and it turned out
I’d made out with everyone there except that boy,
not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t have a date
for prom and when we brown bagged forties
outside the Waldorf I wanted to be drunker
than I was and proved my drunkenness by kissing
girls and their boy dates and letting them
fondle my breasts which were undeniably
the only thing I was proud of. After the others left,
it seemed inevitable I’d fuck this boy. For the last
hour our eyes had met after every witty remark
one of us made. My college friend
was annoyed and left the living room to go sleep
in my tiny childhood bed and I kissed him like I wanted
to know I could but when his penis,
which was small and solid like the raccoon’s
penis bone my friend and I found online
in middle school when we were trying to decide
if dicks had bones, started tapping my thigh,
nervously expectant like a tight fist against
a window, I didn’t want it inside me at all
and I said something about being tired
or wanting to wait though all night
I’d been spinning college sex stories like a conquistador
returning home only to find it wasn’t my home
anymore. The first step of growing up is realizing
you can fuck any boy from your high school
you want to now. The second is not wanting to.
Nancy Miller Gomez
She’s sitting in a crowded subway car, zipping through email messages
on her phone and minding her own business when it appears:
a photo of a man’s penis. — CNN
The first pic was blurry, so she might not have been sure.
The second one resolved all doubt. The hand grasping it faced up
so she could see the half moons of his cuticles frowning
below the pale crown of flesh. Now the woman is glancing around.
She’s wearing a pea coat over jeans though he imagines her naked,
her breasts swaying slightly as the car rocks back and forth. He didn’t expect
what came next. She stood, furiously tossed her bob of hair, held up her phone
and said, Is this yours? She waved it around so others could see. Is this yours?
She said to the man seated next to him. Is it yours? She said to another man.
Look, she said, and then she shoved her phone into his face and said,
Is this yours? It seemed so absurd on the small face of her phone, under it,
the innocent airdrop request, “Steven’s phone would like to share.”
Are you Steven, she asked? The man next to him glanced over and said.
Not me. Wrong color, and for a moment, the two smiled over the joke.
He wondered if everyone could see his white cheeks turning shades of fire?
This wasn’t what he’d intended. He thought she’d feel a flurry of curiosity,
perhaps a flush of desire. He is, after all, not a bad looking man, the kind that walks naked through the locker room thinking other men are noticing. He imagined
she’d look around with shyness, maybe edge her way to the exit doors to escape
with his secret stowed in her purse. He imagined she’d think of him at night,
take it out when she was alone and gaze at the soft, vulnerable skin of the glans,
the slightly erect shaft cupped in his palm, the mat of blonde hair. He didn’t expect
all the commotion: a lady towing her small daughter to the far end of the car,
the man to his right chuckling, shaking his head, and the woman in front of him,
her voice a glass shattering, over and over, as if he was a dog who had soiled the carpet,
Is this yours? Is this yours? Is this yours?
Julienne Maui Castelo Mangawang
You walk into the hallway
And pass by a bedroom.
A field of tumbleweeds
Has taken over furniture.
Cacti have grown roots
In the kitchen, they hollow
The ground for scorpions
And snakes. You remember
The curses that echo here
To the cracking of leather
And the low wailing of a girl.
In the hallway, there are ghosts
Who look like my grandparents.
I see them blending into the paint
As if touching will make them wane.
I try to hold them
Like how grandma
Clutches my arm.
But they escape my skin and bones.
Linger like a butterfly
In the living room, my visitor
On the couch after Grandpa
Became ashes in California.
Did he find a way here?
These ghosts do not answer
So I only pass them
Messages through a language
They only remember:
I lean on the mesh
With a hand, the hinges remain
Undisturbed and I stand
Trembling. Your figure
Outlined in the dirt
Disappears over a road.
I have many versions
Of your leave-taking
Do I have to see.
This Is a Torch Song
You think I’m not a goddess? Try me… Touch me and you’ll burn.
– Margaret Atwood
At a strip club in Florida a man is dead
serious, asks the bartender, “How much
for her?” I say I’m not for sale, not how
he means. He says, “But I bought you
I put a cigarette out on his hand.
—Or I would have, if I smoked, so I did it
with the fireball rioting in my throat.
When I started stripping, it was my first step / toward myself again / it was where I stood on high heels again after years of hiding / in boys’ clothing in order to be seen by fellow queers. / The club housed my high drag fantasy: / impersonate myself as a beautiful high femme / straight woman / who never has to put out. / Paid instead of charged / to access the overculture’s comfort. / Don’t pity me the ways I make peace / with my own survival.
A decade blushed / and all the girls I met / held desire in their teeth / a somehow intimate knowledge / of dark underbellies / and the know-how to soften the night / with the flames we kindled / beneath our skin to keep ourselves / warm. / Stripping the light fantastic. / Our aerial inversions are a warning: / we are stronger than we look / we can lift our body weight / head over heels / and still wink at you. / We py-romancers, claiming ourselves / out of outcast edges / setting ourselves on wildfire / so people come for miles / just to see us smolder.
Learning we can’t burn / the light itself, not when it’s us, hot, alive / and here, against all / odds. / The parking lot screams / a series of threats / that haven’t stolen us / yet. / Defiance pole dances. / Bravery does, too. / All mood and lighting / we entertain at personal cost. / Tip us. / In the dimness / our salt sweat turns us colors / and we are the flare that beckons / flickering, spinning, remembering / the parts of us that are incandescent. / We can never be put out,
we are transcendent.
Our existence is an act of loving / and I hope these illuminations / set others sparking. / Don’t feel sorry / for where we choose / to find work, wonder, laughter, celebration / for those whose armor / are stilettos, lipglass, and infernos. / We are incendiary, you can’t shame us—
and I’m not sorry for any of it.
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.
Visit the archives here.