Somewhere in a story, not yet knowing Jason’s name, Medea dreams of floating away across the wine-dark sea into adventure. Her brother’s dismemberment yet awaits her, and the scattering of his parts upon the ocean like torn bread tossed to ducks. Dragon-teeth remain unplanted, a father’s treasures unravished. Many years and many tales not-yet-told lay between her in this moment and the slaughtering of rivals with sartorial poison, the kebab’ing of sons on barbeque skewers to serve at their father’s remarriage feast.
Do you believe for one moment she dreams unbloodied?
Even before the evils, back when her smiles were still Glenda-the-good-witch charming, Medea caught the mind’s eye. More than Jason ever could, that milquetoast memorable for theft and desertion, and capturing the love of a woman so far beyond him that only rankest misogyny stifling to stillborn our daughters’ horizons explains it.
I would be Medea, if I could. Even in the before, yes. And in the after, a thousand thousand yeses. I would stand bathed in blood and vengeance; I would know the dangers of disobeying and fling myself regardless from an Olympic peak.
“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.
Seems I cannot shower enough during these dark, chilling days of autumn. For reasons I still find curious.
What reasons, you ask.
I could tell you. I could say that I like the heat and how the wet steam rises, or that I am washing off the stench of each day’s ever more rancid news, or that I have a new-found dedication to feminine conventions and shave my legs now twice daily, maybe my pubes too. In fact, I like these answers. I think I will tell you one of them. Or you just pick yourself a favorite, and pretend it’s what I said.
Pretend I did not tell you the truth: that I am still learning what it means to feel, in all the senses of the word and of the senses, and it is only when hot water hits me everywhere and all at once that I can remember the names of human emotion.
Most of the time I spend standing in the shower I am crying. Don’t read too much into that, though.
She slouches in, ever the surly adolescent;
slides like a grouch into her chair.
Her father, Priam, last king of the impregnable city (Lo how the mighty walls of Troy forever fall)
is griping again his common complaints of shifty royal advisers
and tax collectors delinquent for the season.
Queen Hecuba purses her lips and frowns; passes down green beans
instead of the mashed potatoes her daughter asks for.
Heaving a weighty sigh, Cassandra tries to catch the glance
of a close-seated sibling, second eldest among her 50 brothers.
Fails, as expected. (Paris’s eyes already so full of Helen
whose beauty he has yet to see. Hands already so full
with the taste of her, he snatches in practice at scullery maids,
at the cook’s assistant; bears them off unwilling
into closets and dark corners—previews
of the world-ending snatch-and-run yet to come.)
The prophet sees in the distance her own snatching,
how this time next year she’ll be knocked up with the Sun God’s curse— would-be curse, she corrects herself; disbelief comes as a burden only to those unaccustomed to being disbelieved—
and laughs, distracted—a beat too soon,
interrupting her father’s joke before its punchline.
A minute later, redeems herself from his glare by laughing again,
this time at just the right moment in just the right way.
Under the table, she cups her ever-to-be-unpregnant belly
already swelling with a god’s seed,
already feeling the stories push and flutter beneath her skin.
“Survivors understand full well that the natural human response to horrible events is to put them out of mind. They may have done this themselves in the past. Survivors also understand that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. It is for this reason that public truth-telling is the common denominator of all social action.” –Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
In a dream, I come across a toad in the woods. Squat, warty, with flat blank eyes. He belches up a stone that clatters over my feet. A ruby, I recognize when I bend over to look: big as my fist and red as death. I reach out to pick it up, to pop it into my mouth for safe-keeping, and grab the toad instead. I do not realize my mistake until I feel the toad sitting belligerent on my tongue, plumping up his blotchy abdomen to fill the space from my lips to my throat. When I look back for the ruby, it is already gone.
I wake up choking.
* * * * *
Most of the photos I have from my childhood live in a large document box, clustered together chronologically in clearly-labeled archival folders. My mother—trained historian and daughter of a news-photographer—made just such a careful box for each of us during the years after my grandfather’s death, merging countless stacks of inherited photos with her own files as she worked to organize his legacy. An inch into the box, in a folder simply labeled “GRADE 2,” one finds not photographs but a carbon-copy report typed onto two sheets of onion skin paper, preprinted with the words: CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.
I remember this report, even though I’d never read it until recently. Or, more precisely, I remember taking the tests that led to it.