Family photo

Draw a line in sand

She’s the border of one side and the other

At times unteathered

Without prediction

There’s a mystique to change if it’s bidden

And if not …

Galloping down flights of stairs in Wellington boots

Doors unlatched, bodies surge toward the wild

Leaving behind tables of cups and saucers

A black current stain on her dress, she didn’t

Care what others thought

Letting little boys see her private parts, beneath the weeping willow

Hers was the reaction

A swinging, uncovered, naked lightbulb

Denied its right to be switched off, to sleep without searching hand

She learned, the way of obedience, had a sharp taste in her throat

Better climb out, scale the walls, tear your hands than

Be mounted with his collection on a pinkering wall

To dessicate and lose color, for each pulse of his filthy yen

A gamble necessary to quit and never look back

Running on bare feet with feathers in her mouth

If she left the earth would she sink or float?

Going over the edge, empty-handed and savage

Yet .. children survive

Incomplete and clean of doubt

Their enemy known, in the family photo

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I said no and you said yes

I said no and you said yes

The first time was before I can remember

adults do not have dominion over children’s souls

but that’s what happens when you touch a child and cause her to be unwhole

the second time was in nursery school so I suppose your foray of my body had begun

as I emulated what was done

in the back of a toy caravan with my pretend boyfriend and he liked it a lot

made me feel dirty though, I did not know what that meant at the time

seeded a doubt in the core of my person, like a rod of copper slowly turning green

the third time I lay face down on a dirty carpet and three boys played marbles across my back

they got the idea from a porno mag their father hadn’t hidden very well

and their kid sister watched from the doorway, and I told her with my eyes, go to your room or you will be next

I said no and you said yes

it became as normal as something bad can be, I wanted to see her, so I had to cross the gauntlet and you were the gatekeeper

nobody believes you when it is easier to disbelieve and go on thinking respectable people don’t lie

you taught me to hate games shows as they were our background noise

and grandma would come in laughing and I’d see the guilt in her eyes

sacrifice the daughter, sacrifice the child, sweep the dirt underneath the bruises of generations

at nine I fell in love for the first time with a boy who wiggled above me but he of all, respected my desire to be unmolested and we hung upside down from the monkey puzzle tree holding hands

I said no and you said yes

James Brown was your name like the singer, and you didn’t take no for an answer

you climbed my bunk bed and pulled down your pants and if the door bell hadn’t rung you would have got your way

I wonder who came after me and if they were saved by the bell?

I said no and you said yes

yes yes yes you know you want this

no no no I really don’t

but you asked for it, you tempted me, you flirted, you caused me to have a hard-on, this is YOUR FAULT

I kissed a boy in the garages outside school and it felt dirty and wrong because it reminded me of what others had done

before I made decisions of my own

I said no and you said yes

I felt guilty about touching myself because of the Jahovah witnesses and the Mormons and the teacher who stapled my confession together and said we won’t talk of it

when I tried to tell her, this is what happened to me

and you didn’t feel guilty about playing yatzee and karatee on your father’s bed with the nylon sheets and the little bobbles they made when you made a tent and put your fingers in

and you didn’t feel badly when you lied and said you would only touch and instead you went too far and before I knew you were pinning me against a table

I said no and you said yes

children who are violated don’t always know what’s best for them

they are broken and they are scattered and they are stomped on and they hate how they look when the light is on

but they want to fit in and they want to be normal and sometimes in trying they get it all wrong

the neighbor told my parents; your little girl is using bad words and teaching my boys how to curse

and I said fucking hell what does it matter?

but it did, it mattered a lot, to stay in the confine of childhood and not grow up

because growing up meant it was real and you had to deal with it and whilst you were a child

nobody believed it could happen anyway so you could pretend it did not

I said no and you said yes

yes yes yes I know you want to

no no no I really don’t

and my second boyfriend said he wouldn’t go too far

but he did and he did and he did

and I ran through the streets holding myself up and I shouted to the trees that had fallen because of the high wind

why do people pretend? because I didn’t understand and it was a language impenetrable

but I was not … impenetrable

I was just a place of conquer

I wanted to find a lock and keep myself closed

but they kept battering down the door one after the other

because patterns are sometimes all we have to show

for the cycle of abuse

I said no and you said yes

the last time was in a public street

dragged off and soon the roads diminished and the woods were thick

he moved like a silver fish cutting his way into my secrets

I lay staring at the knife

he told me, I won’t cut you if you are nice

I was very, very nice

no no no

yes yes yes

the policeman said; I have to ask, it’s my job, did you want to have sex with this homeless man?

and I pulled up my torn skirt and my ripped hose and my shredded blouse and my dismembered bra and my bloody underwear and I said

if you can even ask that question

you will not recognize justice if it comes

no no no

I said no and you said yes

the last time and the first time and all the rest

when children become girls, become women, become less

than the worth that is owed them

yes yes yes !

One hand

s-l400

At fifteen a lewd boy, only 5’5 asked;

Will you pose for me with your legs spread?

She hadn’t shaved in three days, the stubble rubbed the backs of her calf where she pressed against enamel bath

A maelstrom in her eyes instead of pupils

He said; good, good, excellent, just like that … ba-aby

Now … Open them

And she remembered the first time she unfurled

Like those Chinese paper flowers that grow in water

A warm rose bud disturbed by prying fingers

She recalled the way unwanted thumb pealed her exposed

A fruit chewed on before ripening

The sting afterwards

Like she’d dried out all her moisture and hung like a salted fish to be slapped and dismissed

If she gave this boy, with sweat on his lip instead of hair, his hand down his pants yanking something terrible, a rolling storm, tattooing bruised landscape

His way would become her path

What would be next?

Can you scissor yourself over my friend and lower down like a stray bullet?

We’ll make money and you’ll have value

I’ll take care of you, afterward you can pretend it didn’t happen

We’ll smoke away the taste and I’ll move inside you until you release

Regret

It’s easier to prostitute yourself when nobody has your back and you didn’t learn how

To save yourself, to feel your worth

The sabotage within, so achingly familiar

If I do it’ll be like every other time I ruined myself over nothing, you say

Feeling deserving of the pain, shame is a funny fellow, makes you quite attached

When you’re adrift and running on empty

Who knew how easy it was to ruin a child?

Set in place, steps of greater sabotage

She could feel their sticky fingers on her thighs

The voices murmuring, it’s what you deserve

Sickness in a learned desire to be debased

On her knees being ridden like a horse, the riders

Grabbing her innocence, one handful of hair at a time

Til she was all used up and another empty set of eyes

Waiting for the next fix

She saw herself at thirty, dying in an empty room

And the boy who encouraged her now, high on himself and the vigor of youth

Didn’t know how easy it would be for her to tumble down the rabbit hole, he only thought of

Getting his cock sucked and how he could brag if she’d pose for his fantasies

She wasn’t his, she didn’t want to be the next hole, willingly bent over

She wasn’t a plastic doll or his fist, she didn’t exist for him to spank himself off

Her image was sacrosanct, her body inviolate

Her legs weren’t going to open and be his willing whore

Just because she felt empty inside and his thin flattery pretended to assuage, all the pain and losses

That wasn’t her path

He didn’t get to see her center or hold her up for inspection

The fine line between loss and lost is not so fine

She stood up for herself for the first time and learned

What we do, matters, impacts us, stays like a cancer

Life already hard, she needed all the breaks she could get

It began with leaving and not looking back

At the boy holding a camera in one hand

The fragile cast 

Tell me again

To be fearless

Tell me again

To depend on myself

I am yet a child

Still holding her toy by the ear

I am feeling you give me

The hard water slap of advice

Cold on my cheek, formerly warm.

You say

It’ll toughen me up

But I already know

It has wrought the reverse

I am not

A leathered creature of your creation

I am already 

Quite changed and mangled.

Whilst you 

Suffered and carved expressions from granite

Still you were told, you were a marvel

I was weighted down only with disapprobation

And your searing brand of tough love

Tore me further without support

Gave me greater fears, made me feel alone

In a room full of sound.

You cannot rob a child of their ego before it is formed

Nor nurture one empty handed and pickpocketed

You cannot protect a child by harm

Broken is broken.

We all require, when we start in this world

The unconditional faith of others

In a look, a knowledge, some portion of belief

In the validity of us

Lifted just enough to see over the edge.

Life already begs to steal the best 

We cannot survive by being cast into fire before we learn to walk

It doesn’t forge stronger bones

We live as ash, insubstantial invalids

Longing for the strength of kindness.

Before you break a child

Think of them twenty years from now

Grown on thin gruel and scraps

We who stand in the tempest 

May appear whole

But in our essence we lack

The varnish of other’s meant to grow us tall

It is in the stained radiance 

We find the courage to face the world

Bestowed on us by those meant to protect

The fragile cast of a child.

You got out

(Part of a new series of poems about people whom I have met, who profoundly moved me).

They said

no it’s not a person, it’s a trash bag, or wad of clothing

as I turned the car around

knowing it was a girl, curled into herself

it was for her, the end of a long night

for me, an early morning drive

into rising sun

indigo girl

her limbs thin enough, to resemble twigs

hair colored black, face still-water of a child

she waved us off

no, no, no, I’m fine here

in the fetal position, on the cement

lying by the side of road exhaust

as predator number 10, idles his car and asks

do you want me to take you home

baby?

I press myself to the window glass

no, don’t get in the car!

he looks angry when she says

I’m just taking a nap, goodnight

his lust drives off, leaving fuel staining like road kill

I wonder

what he would have done if

all 90 pounds of her, in tiny shorts and torn top

had accepted his bearly, concealed hunger

how many predators comb

early morning side walks, hoping

to pick up lost girls?

she’s got sense and she also, doesn’t know

but I do

I was her once

crawling out of an abandoned warehouse

knife wounds, waltzing on my throat

cold semen in my belly

clawmarks designating, my survival

bearly

the car that stopped then

a light in darkness

they took me away, from near death

when so easily

I could have been picked up, a second time

a third,

by hands with bad intention

when you are fallen

people often crowd in, to help you

fall again

like wolves who smell

the coming of blood and

vulnerabilities, we think we hide

I told her

don’t get into a car with a lone man, or group of men

they may not show their fangs but

you are a little piece of goodness

sometimes people who prowl, want to hurt

that shining within you

we drove

she was looking out the window

with her unslept eyes and the residue of last night

still high on her pain

and for the first time in my life

I no longer felt a victim

but one of the imaginary horses, I used to ride

speeding away from slick, sales-man, cough

of curb-side prowler

I wanted to make her better

but sometimes you can only

patch and release

to maybe nothing safer than hope

with a few words

wishing, that when she’s sober

waking without assault

she remembers

you were her once

and you got out

 

Uninterrupted innocence

Kids Jumping into Lake ChippewaPigeon-chested children with streaming noses

dive weightless into still water

breaking circles into smaller circles, rebounding against

sunlight

their laughter feels like a cold hand around my neck

as I imagine their futures

the girl with the black hair, she’ll be raped by her uncle

her mother will tell her, she is a dirty little liar

she will start taking pills at ten and graduate to heroin

when the school counselor asks her, where it all went wrong

she will think of the sunlight through trees

elm, willow, plain oak and cypress

the sound of her unmolested body, falling into water

as if baptized in reverse

the turn of her mother’s neck, in denial

her thick coral lips, mouthing betrayal

my brother would not do that

her own diminishing and the feeling

of wet, cold, bathing suit

sticking

cloying

admonishing

and she will not know, how to verbalize

that separation of self or why

it seemed permissible to sell her body for drugs

let men cut her up, into shards of her former wholeness

like fast food tastes bad

once it has been opened

she does not know, how it stopped mattering

if she protected, those broken walls within her

they were already torn down

that’s what she’d say, if she hadn’t

consumed her tongue and turned it hard

like a cliffs edge seems strong but crumbles

and the counselor, sighs and shakes her head

going home, only to wonder what more

she could do, to reach lost children

and the black-haired girl, gets her fix and slips

once more beneath glassy-eyed waves

this time, she can see herself

her blanched face, her loose fingers empty

letting go of all pain and slipping

like worry beads

deeper and deeper

and if I could, I would

walk backward in time

pluck her drenched and empty

fill her with sunlight and sound

reverberating like a crack in the world

opens and reveals a new passageway

she would come with me into the forest

her younger self remaining

jumping from the jetty with her friends

caught in elasticized moments

too free to escape the laughter

of uninterrupted innocence

Joanna

56akpbgJoanna

I never knew your last name

Benjamin wanted you more

than he ever wanted me

for your madeline face and framing water fall

of black hair

Joanna

as thin as if you only ate thought

your knees could not hold together you

came apart like a dearticulate doll

everyone felt so sorry for your ragged sorrow

though no one knew why

looking perpetually like you would cry

a Picasso blue girl of faraway gaze

Joanna

if I had not envied you the heart of a boy

who had bewitched my own, or felt your ability

to balance upside down on monkey bars

making you superior in the rules of horse chestnuts and marbles

I may have seen the threadbare grief in your eyes

how from the hollows came the cry

it is apparent now in a way a child refuses

blowing her rage with swollen cheeks

as if temper lost her place in a world of shut doors

why wasn’t I kinder to you?

why did I try to compete when all you wanted

was respite from the terror of being

Joanna