How To Forgive

She asks me to write a list
of all the names I’ve been called.
And then a list of things
that are killing me.
Where to start? Susie. Sue.
Big Head. Men have called me cold.
Men I know, men I don’t.
It’s all over the news
how they want to kill me.
It doesn’t matter what they
call me. When I was 17, I kneeled
on the stained carpet at Men’s Wearhouse,
looping a tape measure around
a small boy’s waist and he showed me
my name. He pulled his eyes slant
as I measured the distance
between belly button and floor: inseam
or outseam, it’s hard to keep track.
A wedding, his father said.
There was going to be a wedding.
The boy needed a tux.
I don’t like this memory
because I did nothing.
In remembering,
I become nothing again.
Not long after in college,
I was sorting clothes in the back
of a Goodwill. Court-ordered community
service. An older man took
his time looking me up
and down as I sweat through my shirt,
threw pit-stained blouses
into the discard pile,
everything else the salvaging bin.
I went home with him for years,
not knowing about the prior assaults.
Would my knowing have changed
anything? He was gentle
to my face. I only ignored
his texts sometimes.
Men have destroyed me
for less. Even the boy.
I’m supposed to tell you
I forgive him—
he was just a boy.
I forgive myself instead.

Copyright © 2022 by Susan Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.