My sister died. He raped me. They beat me. I fell
to the floor. I didn’t. I knew children,
their smallness. Her corpse. My fingernails.
The softness of my belly, how it could
double over. It was puckered, like children,
ugly when we cry. My sister died
and was revived. Her brain burst
into blood. Father was driving. He fell
asleep. They beat me. I didn’t flinch. I did.
It was the only dance I knew.
It was the kathak. My ankles sang
with 100 bells. The stranger
raped me on the fitted sheet.
I didn’t scream. I did not know
better. I knew better. I did not
live. My father said, I will go to jail
tonight because I will kill you. I said,
She died. It was the kathakali. Only men
were allowed to dance it. I threw
a chair at my mother. I ran from her.
The kitchen. The flyswatter was
a whip. The flyswatter was a flyswatter.
I was thrown into a fire ant bed. I wanted to be
a man. It was summer in Texas and dry.
I burned. It was a snake dance.
He said, Now I’ve seen a Muslim girl
naked. I held him to my chest. I held her
because I didn’t know it would be
the last time. I threw no
punches. I threw a glass box into a wall.
Somebody is always singing. Songs
were not allowed. Mother said,
Dance and the bells will sing with you.
I slithered. Glass beneath my feet. I
locked the door. I did not die. I did
not die. I shaved my head. Until the horns
I knew were there were visible.
Until the doorknob went silent.
“100 Bells” copyright © 2018 by Tarfia Faizullah and reprinted from Registers of Illuminated Villages with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org
1. It bejins in Berlin A Historical Case Study In Disappearance + Cultural Theft: Exhibit YZ: Brinj back to me Nefertiti Her Bust Take her From behind the vitrine For I know where to find her missinj eye Then put a woman in charje of all antiquities. She-law: just because somethinj is beautiful doesnt mean it was meant to be consumed; just because there are tourists doesnt make it an attraction. 2. everywhere anytxme atm her vxolatxon: guaranteed. sxlence bought or your settlement money back. objectxfactxon xn the mxrror xs closer than xt appears. please mxnd the wage gap. cautxon: not chxld resxstant to open hold down and turn away squee geez use daxly, mornxng, and nxght supported by an aroma of certified organxc heavens: for every gxrl who grows xnto a woman who knows the best threat’s: one she never has to make she sublxmates your sublxmxnal even your affectxon has been xnfected 3. this poem cant go on without hex i mean hex heeee x hex hex and hex hex hej heq hez hex she was stolen bought sold lost put undex buxied alive at bixth she was dxagged in blue bxa duxing a xevolution with vixginity tests she waits then she doesnt she sh sh sh shh she left you she the best thing that happened to you then she lilililililiiii she intifada she moves with two kinds of gxace she ups the ante aging by candid defiant elegance she foxgets but nevex foxgives She-language complex she complex she so complex she complex got complex complex 4. she spends her time anxious because she knows she is better than you rang to say she died from being tired of your everything she knows she is fiyne; gorgeous but she hates it when she infuriates and when she jigs and is kind she minds her own business except when she is new and nervous though she is origin previous and impervious she wont stay quiet she is razor sharp and super tired she undarks, vets, wanes, and xeroxes; yaks and zzzzs the day she dreams 5. Me tooa B Me toob Me tooc R Me tood Me tooe I Me toof N Me toog G Me tooh them Me tooi B Me tooj A Me took C Me tool K Mem too Men too Me tooo Meep too Meq too Mer too Me too Me too Meu too Mev too Mew too Mex too Mey too Mez too Me ((too)) Me ((((((((((((too))))))))))))
Copyright © 2018 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk
Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.
Pleased to meet you meat to please you
said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.
Everything changed the year that we got married.
And after that we moved out to the suburbs.
How young we were, how ignorant, how ready
to think the only history was our own.
And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,
Their voices high, sharp:
nothing is ever entirely
right in the lives of those who love each other.
In that season suddenly our island
Broke out its old sores for all to see.
We saw them too.
We stood there wondering how
the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,
the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes
we thought we knew
had been made to shiver
into our ancient twelve by fifteen television
which gave them back as gray and grayer tears
and killings, killings, killings,
then moonlight-colored funerals:
nothing we said
not then, not later,
fathomed what it is
is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.
And if the provenance of memory is
only that—remember, not atone—
and if I can be safe in
the weak spring light in that kitchen, then
why is there another kitchen, spring light
always darkening in it and
a woman whispering to a man
over and over what else could we have done?
We failed our moment or our moment failed us.
The times were grand in size and we were small.
Why do I write that
when I don't believe it?
We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.
Children were born and raised here
and are gone,
As for that couple did we ever
find out who they were
and did we want to?
I think we know. I think we always knew.
From Domestic Violence (W. W. Norton, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Carcanet Press.
still as a scar through the screen's glow : perhaps this is the origin
of my obsession with the color white : searching to name this shade
color like bitten bed sheets : color like a failed dove : or split lip
when red has ceased howling its way to the surface : perhaps the color
of fog over the river bed that morning : or the color of concrete
that bleach & blood leave behind : it hangs around her like the word
faggot in the air of the locked bedroom : like drying hemorrhage suspended
between skin & cotton : sideways on the bathroom floor : it hangs around
her like a name : that once belonged only to me : & i think maybe
most of all i am jealous : for any metaphor i can put to it : the dress
is still beautiful : pale & soft & pure : & isn't this just like my poems?
dressing a violence in something pretty & telling it to dance?
Originally published in BOAAT. Copyright © 2018 by torrin a. greathouse. Used with the permission of the author.
He broke into me
a brazen thief
never charged with forced entry
because "Please don't" didn't lead
to blue black marks on the lock
and no one sees the bruise prints
the scratch marks on my spirit
these don't make police reports
the dignity missing from my step
doesn't qualify as physical evidence
I shake when I see him
only my homegirls seem to notice
their golden light, protective around me
his boys' mantra is "lying bitch"
they mutter it with sharp machete eyes,
occassionally someone rouses himself to say it-
the words weigh down the wings of airborn birds
and for the first time
I see these men not as men
but as terrorists in training
camaflouged bombers on
the ground floor of truth
taking dynamite to it's foundation.
I see myself as a prisoner of war
I wish this wasn't my story
but it is
a million times over
and just when I think it has gone away
it reappears at my doorstep
in another womans face
or on the ten o'clock news
and although I have loved men since
maybe another sister can't
so this is our story
and it will be ours
until we don't have to claim it anymore
until women from Brooklyn to Oakland to South Africa
can sit back in amazement and say
"I can't believe such things ever occured,"
until the word "rape"
can be wiped out from vocabularies
removed from the dictionary
stamped out of our memories
until then, this will be our story
and wounded eyes will tell it
even when we don't
From Karma's Footsteps (Flipped Eye, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Mariahadessa Ekerete Tallie. Used with the permission of the author.
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says: My mother would never put up with that.
Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time
your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?—
don’t waste your breath explaining, again,
how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.
Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice
given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don’t belabor
the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband’s release a year later, or
the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—
they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks: Do you think
your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy
with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told
by your famous professor, that you should
write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.
Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and
contend with what it means, the folk-saying
you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother’s body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—
you carry her corpse on your back.
Copyright © 2016 by Natasha Trethewey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
who in the hell set things up
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was this man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
for My Daughter
Your body can unzip
like a boned bodice.
Your body is a knife—
both slicing point
& handle. Your body is the diamond
but the bleeding is not yours.
On the ground at your feet
your body is becoming rocks.
Heat-baked by centuries into basalt,
canyons of you, black-mouthed & sharp-edged.
Lift the largest rock
of yourself and throw
with all the rocks in your gut.
Ghost the mother of your gut—she birthed you
In the ghost story, a woman goes to hell
for a man who’d unravel her.
Use the hell
of your body,
unravel for no one but yourself.
Originally published in Origins. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Givhan. Used with the permission of the author.