“Wanna bite?” the old woman asked,
holding out her cherry-red confection
polished and gleaming as a new Corvette
or a little girl’s patent leather shoes
on Sunday morning.
Should’ve tipped me to the truth, that glow alone.
Nothing from nature shines straight from the tree,
the earth, the ocean. Not before violence:
the pearl deslimed of its oyster’s flesh,
coal hewn from the depths and lit ablaze.
Even fruit does not reveal its juicy glisten
until split open by greedy teeth.
But I was tired and not attending as I should.
It’s long days, caring for grown men small enough
to resemble children—or call them children
grown destructive enough to resemble men. No matter. Princess is only a title that escapes drudgery
when some other woman’s close to hand.
What I’m saying is:
Maybe I did notice, after all.
Maybe I did understand.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom very far from the sea, there lived a little princess who spent her days scooping up frogs and kissing them full on the mouth (though with very little tongue). This was the destiny bespoke her: that her lips would one day free a prince, who would come to rule her people with justice and grace and love her as deeply and true as only a man with a second chance at life can.
One day, the little princess noticed a strange thing happening. After each kiss, even as the frogs remained all entirely frog-like, a green splotch would bloom upon her fair skin. Then two splotches. Then three. No amount of lemon juice or pumice stone undid the pigmentation. Soon she grew quite mottled, her once smooth complexion pebbled and waxy to the touch.
“Well, no matter,” she thought to herself, “for isn’t this the essence of love? To transform ourselves without question into that which our Beloved will most desire?”
“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.”
~ Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
“From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below.
Inanna set her mind on the great below and abandoned heaven, abandoned earth…
Who has ever ascended from the underworld,
who has ascended unscathed from the underworld?”
~ from the Sumerian epic Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld
Queen of heaven’s ziggurat!
Bringer of war and bestower of lust,
mother of humanity!
If you cannot divine which holy face I turn
towards you from the sky,
remember only this:
You fail to worship me at your peril.
II. Rape Under the Palm Tree
Ask what was I wearing that day
and I will tell you: rags / robes / nothing at all.
Ask and I will tell you: my sovereignty flying across the sky like a rainbow.
A girl looks into a mirror. Staring back: a feral thing with bloodshot eyes, its matted hair jutting twigs and leaves.
Trick of the light.
She shakes her head and the mirror ripples, then settles, like a pond after a skipping stone. Now, across the glass, the girl sees a matching limpid-eyed child in pigtails. She turns her face to the right and to the left, checking herself in profile, and nods, satisfied.
A final toss of her head, and the girl steps away from the mirror, opens the front door, and walks into the bright morning sun.
Stretching from her feet along the sidewalk behind her, the girl’s shadow rears on two hind legs and snarls at the sky.
A rape survivor’s moderately non-literal response to a country’s monumentally unthinkable decision.
[And yeah, GOP Senators: I’m looking at you.]
* * * *
I would believe myself one of the Stoics, born again, if I could.
I would convince us both, if only I could believe, that the fire I have undergone tempered me like steel, rather than reduced me to bone chips and fragments of teeth. The debris of a mortuary’s kiln.
Understand: I have long since abdicated belief in humanity’s innate goodness. Our impulses may tend always to sociability, to companions and to tribe. But—friends, a family, a troop of bullies, a rape gang, an army, a Senate… In the end, how is difference measured?
We learn to live with our hungers—to make peace with them—or we never learn to live. The trick is how to soften into one’s fear, whether of connection or abandonment. To sink, to collapse gently, yet still stand tall. I settle myself in the chair and reach for vulnerability. Try to let myself go, to let myself turn soft.
Soft like a paunch, my anger whispers back. Soft and bloated like a liver gone rotten with cirrhosis.