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.

Related Poems

I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or 
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
Shall we pick a number? 
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will

I must become a menace to my enemies.

And if I 
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
                   terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I 
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
                   wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

If You’re Going to Look Like a Wolf They Have to Love You More Than They Fear You.

The first deer had large teeth and no horns and
were not afraid.

The first deer did not have enough fear
for the men who needed them
to survive.

A woman decided to let the men eat
a grandmother decided her deer shall have horns
and be afraid
someone’s mother decided the men shall eat
and shall be feared.


A man thought wolves should be used
to cull the herd.

And we who had been catching water
dripping through stone
in the homes we dug
out of the earth
we licked our long teeth clean
            and set to work.



A Theory of Violence

—after New Delhi, after Steubenville

Under the surface of this winter lake,
I can still hear him say you're on thin ice
now, my heel grabbed, dragged into the opaque
murk of moments—woman raped on a bus;

girl plunged into oblivion, taken
on a tour of coaches' homes, local bars,
backseats of cars, the sour godforsaken
expression on each classmate's face; the dark,

the common route home, faint footfalls behind.
How many times have I bloodied my fist
against this frozen expanse to remind
myself there is another side, hope-kissed,

full of breath? I howl. The water begs, drown,
its hand pressing tight, muffling every sound.