Thrift Store Special

teddy1

If I hung in a storefront

I’d have no label

It was torn off in the wash

The store owner lied

Trying to cover a great crime

I’m not gentle cycle, nor wash below 30c

I don’t fluff up well in dryer

Or need ironing on low heat

I’m a thrift store special

Good for a gander, then better cast off

Stuffed in the back of your closet

Forgotten until you move house

When you hold me to the light

Exclaiming; where did I buy this?

A little wistful, a little disgust

Just like a spare thread can run

Through any knit and mar its form

I was shrunk on hot and stretched in cold

Long before you grabbed me out of the lucky dip bin

It was the elongation of my experience

Like wool is malformed turning huge in water

Expanding and reducing, I am the sheared sheep who took off

When the shepherd came to my turn

I never backed down, nor avoided spitting in their eye

My fur smells of energy and emptiness and freedom and neglect

You wear me when you want attention

Or to be someone you’re not

And I’m sequins gathered in a pearls bosom

The knotted mohair and impossibly soft angora

But most of all, I’m the time you left your possessions behind

And rode in the dark without lights

Imagining your bicycle a horse and you …

with your dress catching in the spokes covered in oil

You just wanted him to catch fire on your edges

Sounding the cavorting need you had to bloom beneath

Then you were a water-lily and even years later

You are reminded each time a candle is lit, the smell of wax

How he burned your fingers with his inelegant desire

And you opened like origami to his bewitchment

Then you were a dragonfly, passing through fountain

If I hung in a storefront

I’d have no label

But you’d purchase me all the same

Over again

Smiling

At the memory of

Something you couldn’t quite grasp

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The song of rape

It took one finger to break into her

one finger to make her feel violated and dirty

two to make her scream

the boys laughed afterward mockingly

why you so upset girl? we didn’t deflower you

you should thank us bitch

or maybe we should just do what we came here to do

they pinned her down, her tights stretched between her legs

like her fractured hymen

she saw the beginning of tears and inside felt

the raw and hurt center cry out

don’t come back don’t ever come back

they were only eleven years old

lying on the floor in the outside toilets

staring at the stars hardly there because of all the smog

her lungs filled with hurt

they were her friends

until they became rabid dogs

she didn’t know what switched the switch or why

they felt she was there to poke and prod

they were too small and she was too small and everything about it

was premature

which meant

waiting until it happened again

she wasn’t a victim but some things reoccur

as if on some awful cycle

sometimes she’d shudder thinking about

their little hard cocks

trying to pry their way in

the way it felt to be hurt like that

with unwashed fingers scrabbling and opening

the parts of her nobody should

she could visualize the cement beneath her

the smell of urinals and their unwashed genitals

if they had known enough to put them in her mouth

they would have

thankful for small mercies she knew

kids these days wouldn’t be so innocent

they see porn before they know how to spell

pornography

what ideas they must get and how

many bad things go on behind closed doors

or even ones held shut by little boys

seeking to immitate older brothers

she would have impaled them with

her rage if she wasn’t so ashamed

so she said absolutely nothing to anyone

least of all the teachers who would have

called her a slut who asked for it

even at eleven years old.

***

When she reached fourteen

the Golem returned

held her down, muffled her mouth

stuck it in like a needle threading through skin

her scream pierced every limb

and nobody heard

nobody wondered why

she wasn’t home for dinner

her plate was left in the fridge

she was emptied of the last piece

of her soul

left gasping where her privacy had been

legs spread and men hustling in

one after the other took their turn

after all wasn’t it a party? Make it count!

her face closed off and remote like she was dead

some of them were small and bony

their penises hardly large enough to feel

between the soreness and the swelling

others bore into her like a metalic truck

thrusting her back onto her thin tail bone

hands around her neck

fingers pinching her nipples and breasts

they filled her with a disgusting smell

she was never going to be whole again

or clean

and when it was over, it had just begun

face after face, cock after cock

a tape on repeat of her worst nightmare

they came, they came and they went

the only evidence there staining the bed

and her rubbery legs unable to flee

tied and sodomized like a string of beads

she flew out of her crumpled body

a bird of wing and feather only

she saw someone she almost recognized

torn and ribboned and splayed

a garish doll, a parody, a destroyed shape

someone she was no longer

as she lifted, higher and higher, beyond that point

no pain anymore just the thick blush of shame

hidden in plumage

she felt nothing but

a choking word on her tongue

WRONG

WRONG

WRONG

her child’s form

her hardly grown self

the silence of nothing

then it did not matter

what time she wasn’t coming home

all the world was quiet now

movement had stilled

the door was shut

nobody knocked

nobody unbuttoned their pants

and sank to their knees

lifting her up for one more final

free fuck

as if she were no more than a hole

not a human

not a worthy soul

immitation the greatest form of flattery

is not

she was cold now to the touch

her spirit somewhere in the stars

it took one finger to break into her

and a record set on repeat playing

over and over until it scratched

and could not play

anymore

the song of rape.

For all the survivors whose voices are quashed.

With life

She is nude

Dearticulate

Her nipples graze the passage of her downfall

Blood is dry and hennaed between her thighs

Who stand witness

To aborted possibility cut short

Held glistening above her in crucifixed parody

She will never bear life

It is not her weft and the thick choker around her neck

Tightens as reminder

If she grows swollen it will be from loss not gain

No feeling of a child pushing its way out

Only the deadening cold taste of metal on her skin

A doctor’s “tut, tut” and rough handling, his voice a graze

Staining her inevitable socially affixed shame

She stares out of a small window

Paint pealing like tears on the empty sill

Where a bird sits sheltering from rain

She thinks of him cutting his way into her with flint eyes

Hands around her throat, pulling her apart

A flashlight douses darkness, shining on blood and her hand

Reaching out

She is empty now

Passion snuffed, an ember no longer close to surface

She is an arroyo dried and crusted over

She is a gourd grown without seed

Disappointment is her meal, she is a featherless bird on wire

Dried empty by sun and rinsed of music

Before this, her watermelon body swayed in water-sprinklers

Feasting on her abundance and possibility

All that would be, all that would be

Is laid waste

Tumbleweed and Joshua tree

Punishment and consequence

The rapist will return at night to his wife and

Three blonde children

She will recover from her tears and cuts

Even the shame of feeling his soil enveloping her

But she will never

Never

Forget what he took in miscarried act

What would happen if we swapped vision?

The fridgidity of growth or a certain constraint

Because if you split my casing I would possess less chance

My surround would envelop your shadows and night cross twice

For women have a shorter life and a longer one

Small boned with narrow shoulders and deep set eyes

Stretching barren like a long road through desert

If she could turn the knife around

Press it gently against his steady pulse

Cut out the evil as he removed her chance

To fill her arms

With life

What they have to learn

The teacher hadn’t enjoyed teaching in a long while

ever since her notions and reality rubbed against one another

exploding the myth she held in teaching college, of making a difference

her students

whom the administrators asked her to refer to as clients

wanted to pay for a degree, not to learn

we don’t have time to study they lamented

we are too busy with everything else which is, so much more important

the students

did not respect her because she earned less than

they believed they would earn in a few years time

she wanted to say DREAM ON but it was no longer acceptable

to tell the truth

especially with college administrators

(who were paid well, to shuffle papers from desk to desk)

watching in the wings

she recalled why

she had wanted to be a teacher

at eight she’d been sent to a foster home

where the ‘father’ decided to show and tell

using his fingers in wrong positions

she ran away and lived

underneath a bridge for the night

listening to the stars wink on and off

and the weave and fall of the world

the next day they found her, dirty and lost

spanked her for making up lies about being abused

and sent her to another foster home

this time the mother

starved her lean

told her she was fat and ugly

when she hardly weighed in

got her to clean and cook and scrub

she preferred that kind of reality

it didn’t involve lies it was honest in its

taste of cruel

when summer was over and she returned to school

a new teacher had begun work

she had the faraway eyes of a dreamer

and her voice was soft like bird song

without saying a word she knew the children who

had been neglected and abused

she’d encourage them often and whisper in their ears

this may seem like this is all there is

but there’s so much more!

one day you will be free to escape your confines

you can shrug off your sadness and become

anything you want

so when the time came for her to age out of the system

she didn’t bring flowers and a card for her foster-mother

instead she packed her single bag and left before

morning showed in the sky

the room was bare and emptied but somehow

it didn’t look so different to when she’d lain there

trying to take up the smallest space

funny that we can inhabit a place for so many years and

when we leave it’s like we were never there

a wraith who didn’t get heard or couldn’t

break out of her little mincing trap of potted meat

she hated the flabby jowls and empty eyes

of those who pretended to keep

her safe

being old enough now to look after herself she

enrolled in teaching college hoping one day

she could reach a child who sat at the back of class

with dirty socks and a mouth full of regret

but time moves on and things change even as they stay the same

kids become hardened, demanding, insolent

hurry up, please it’s time!

parents throw expectations like rocks and call educators

pathetic losers who can’t do, so they teach

she wondered

is cruelty a vein, like in a rock

inherited over time to savage and destabilize

our yearning for safety?

standing there, in her cheap hose and one good pair of shoes

the scuff blacked out by polishing

she saw in the sassing faces of her classroom

a loss of care for changing the world

her own longing to reach through time and alter

one person’s trajectory lost

in the hustle bustle of uncaring formula

spitting out diplomas and marching forward

not thinking at all

about what they have to learn

Written for World Teacher Day. In appreciation of teachers.

How many women does it take?

It was raining the day the movers truck pulled up

piling furniture into the back, exposed to wet streets

everything dirty and unfamiliar

when you take your safety out of its box

when you unlatch your secrets

and expose the insides of a locket

sticky mouths seek to further that exposure

until nothing of your peace remains

but the belly of your secrets on display

as if you were sitting in class without underwear

as if the abuse etched in your soul were a t-shirt

as if his fingers weren’t in the dark but had been

dipped in luminescent paint and everywhere they went

left their grimy imprint / yet you think

this horror may have been the very best thing

as wretched as exposure may taste

at least it wouldn’t be a case of disbelief

how many women does it take?

for one person to not hesitate

how many must say;

he did this / that happened / we are not okay

because of this / why do I have to prove / with gore

and soiled soul / the truth / why isn’t it sufficient that I say

why why why

did he lay a hand on me?

how many women does it take?

a juror in the Bill Cosby case disclosed the reason for his guilty verdict;

I believed he was guilty because he said he had drugged girls

hearing it from the horses mouth got my vote

are we bidding on a horse? Did you check the inside of his mouth?

what of the SIXTY women who spoke?

their voices do not warrant proof?

were people just speaking words?

to deaf sign posts stating;

move on / get over it / don’t make a fuss / why should we believe you?

one person has lied before / you must be lying / that’s our automatic default

what hope then

for one girl?

one single soul

violated in the dark

of a house when all is moved out

and she is left inside a shell, within a shell

the echoes of trucks taking memories

somewhere else

how many women does it take?

to be heard.

Random cruelty

Her mouth

Had a tremor

Just beneath the surface

It spoke

Of the repression of horror

If she let it out

That creature would

Climb to the highest point

And start screaming, needful not of words.

She wrapped her arms around her chest

Feeling the absence of one breast

Her mom used to say

You forgot to grow into a woman, flat chested sparrow chick

Her boyfriend liked her angularity

It’s not very Latino, her sister decried

Shaking her own ample swelling bossom

She favored simple necklines and no bra, catching soft balls with callused hand

Then why she wondered

Did my breast betray me?

I never demanded anything of her

My children did not

Tug with hungry mouths on her unduly

Nor a lover, bite unkindly deep

She felt the tight, smooth scar

Like a flat knife lain on her chest, like unwanted medal

It seemed to hotly whisper

The curling, metal irony of us all

Without sufficient power to stave

Fate’s random cruelty

(For all women)

Against the unknown world

They move together like quicksilver

indisipherable in pursuit

there is such a love in his eyes

her smooth hands cup his mouth

drinking the words he would gush

if they were not pressed tightly, one to the other

locked in an embrace

that gives life

quickening as signature is fluid

when she finds out, she imagines telling her daughter twenty years hence

the story of her conception;

your father and I loved you very much

we lay down by the fireplace, he took me in his arms

from this passion you were forged into life

clay breathed upon, bearing breath and soul

you were wanted, even before you chose

to fill us with yourself

my stomach grew and grew until

it was a tight drum on which to paint

the symbols of your dream

**

He moved in her, his eyes tightly shut

he thought of other women, he thought of touching himself

in the office toilet at lunch with folded magazine

and why such things happened when he had all he could ever want

here in his arms, still he betrayed with desires, ill-tuned to eternal love

when she grew fat and round he did not

wish to hold her quite so tightly, or touch her hot flushed pressing flesh

he thought of others, he got up early, and jogged his frustration into sweat

**

Don’t worry the doctor smiled, with a savage wink

as she labored and her face grew red and her hands sought his

and he wanted to run from the room and shove well fed nurse

against the wall and pour his horror of birth and future into her lipsticked sighs

don’t worry the doctor smiled, with a savage wink

i’m going to sew her up even tighter, it will be like

Christmas day when you unwrap her again

the quintisential “husband’s stitch”

and over his starched cloak and gown, the doctors grey eyebrows

went up and down and he, who was lost

lurched and threw up at the violence and the shame

of men and of women and of life and death, inequality and lust

**

then his daughter was born

fat and round and squalling loudly

if he could have interpreted those words, he felt they spoke to him a repromand

for his cowardice and his fears, imagining being a father

of growing up and settling down, of love and impossible challenges and joys

he saw his wife’s face, wet with sweat and hair plastered down

he felt more than he had ever felt, the emptiness of the past replaced

no longing to empty himself in the coldness of pornography as she slept

a lifetime from the day he first took her to bed and

stripped her of choice with impregnated seed

and now he knew

the fear of men is the strength of women

his daughter fixed him with swollen red eyes

watching him with a stearness that seemed to say

you can do this, you got this, you are not your worst thought

you can be who you want to be, you can be my father, you can love these women

you can direct our future, reshaping mountains

or fall into the arms of least resistance, worship the emptiness of hollow gestures

she seemed to be saying with her tiny fists and pursed lips

turn away from your shallow sport, take this road with us

he who once was weak, grew with love

those things that once were, no more

his resilience, their armor

against the unknown world