Jamaica Plain, MA, June 2019
“It is June. I am tired of being brave.” —Anne Sexton
I waited so long to come to you, until
my eyelids were blackout curtains
and I was sure every voice was a siren
warning me to cower. I thought I defeated it,
Anne. I thought I found a way to escape
your fate. No, Sylvia’s metaphor
was right all along—the bell jar hovers
and you never know when it will descend
again, suffocate you, put your pain on display
like some antique beauty. And I’m here,
kneeling in front of the cold, stone boat
that holds you—the lover you lusted most.
There’s still a part of me that believes
I’m your daughter, and you’re a nurturing mother,
though I’ve heard the rumors. How can I condemn
the only words that swaddled me? Your grave
is littered with pens, shells, flowers: do you know
how much love you have? Do I?
I’m here because you know how to wrench
yourself from the womb of this world, how to sever
the umbilical cord that starved you. Your daughter
says you were a monster. I told my mother
she’s a monster after she told me I lied about my rape.
She sent me texts and emails that explained how women
who are actually raped go to the police—or their mothers,
at least—anything else is a lie, because a woman’s lies
are her only weapon to injure. I blocked her
and found myself on my floor, knees to chest,
a calcified stillborn. I can never judge you, Anne:
this life mothered us and orphaned us in equal measure.
You taught me the lesson the dead know: if we wanted
to wound the world, we’d do it with the truth.
When did you learn that your body
is just another machine for you to work,
how a man’s knuckles churn against your cheek
like gears, how to operate the pulley of your torso
when he’s mounting you, how woman after woman
lays her body down on his assembly line,
how something in your eyes clocks out?
I can’t remember when it happened for me—
I must have been just a child when men’s stares
started to crawl into me like an infestation.
I still jolt in the night, trying to shake the memory
of men’s palms out of my hair like a nest of hornets,
plucking stingers from my thighs.
I’ve never touched one of the fliers
with your missing faces, but I feel the grainy ink
on my fingers as I flip through another magazine
that promises the secret to making men love you.
It says our sex is nectar-sweet, says we need
to pluck the porcupine quills from our tongues
when we speak to them, when we kiss them, learn
how to shed our clothes like an engine purring.
They need to feel us shiver.
Even when they wrap their hands around our necks,
keep humming—men need us sleek, metallic,
not a thought in our heads, easy
to junk when we rust, when we break.