Life of Lice
Back when I believed in things like God and Good,
G’s like low church bells on my mouth’s pallet,
I told my friend, how beautiful it is that a family
of fleas might build their home on my head and he told me
to pray to God, muted breath collected on pillowcase
as I asked God, why He made us so soft, baby skin
mice, and them so hard? Lice women and children brood
thirsty and week, we hear nothing of Acts of Violence
Against Women, against me, day after day,
until Back in 2001 when I asked for my first knife
and the man who wasn’t my father laughed
and said “girl, you’d have to be a boy
scout for that.” Between Him and Him
we good fleas hibernated for our couple
months, day after day, with no food but the quiet;
dandelions trying to hold on to spring,
and I tell my sisters, their yellow, yielding faces,
At least flees stay together while they live
on something much bigger
whereas the cuckoo is abandoned
in a strangers nest, a mistake, unwanted, and maybe the mother
could have pushed it from her womb, never asking
for the imposter,baby birds, flightless, cotton heart beats shaking,
breathy chests, like people but without limbs or mouths.
I wondered if they ever hear of a laws such as Violence
Against Women act, and that it could expire
when I glance at the bald spot on mother’s
head because her hair was torn from her skull,
taking Him for all that He Had.
And I wonder about the Independent Women Act
in a life punctuated by men who are not my father
and collected in blackened cheeks and aggressive cracks
in the wall, but we fleas need heads of hair, like back
when I sobbed on my bedroom floor and my mother
stroked behind my ears, pillow-warm,
touch like lavender, whispering baby,
its just for a little while, and my sisters and I,
we build our home in a stranger’s nest.
I look to her, broken skinned, and say we don’t need him
she nods, lipstick-caked smile blushing across bruises
hushing just for now, spending
her laughter to the phone, to him, you want this.
I ask why bother with Free Women
Acts when a man who is not my friend
touches my baby bird sister, and asks for her to need
his head of hair, and she wants to say yes.
Words like Grab and Groin, the soft Gs
turn hard, the growls of curses clog my throat,
when my friend turns to me and says,
you want this.
Three years ago, when the Violence Against Women Act was up for reauthorization, I wrote this poem.I was horrified that a piece of legislation protecting women could be disputed, never mind that it had to be created in the first place. The law allocated federal funding not just to law enforcement (which many advocates argues exacerbate the problem as survivors’ fear involving the police could discourage seeking help), but to transitional housing, special assistance for victims in rural communities and the disabled, and civil legal assistance.
Hearing Michelle Obama in Manchester, NH say these words last night selfishly felt as if she had read the novel of my life and wrote a one sentence summary. I know I am not the only person who felt that way. I swallowed salty tears as I listened to her summarize something I so acutely felt and could not express in words.
“All of us are doing what women have always done… we are trying to keep our heads above water, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us **maybe because admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak** maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable, maybe because we have become accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we have seen that often people won’t take our word over his…”
Today I am so tired of this cyclical fight, a fight that feels like it is not gaining ground but simply starting back at the beginning like a DVD left in the player as we fall asleep. I can recognize that my experiences have even been a lighter load than those in more vulnerable situations than mine- because of race, lower socioeconomic standing, a lack of a support network, or less access to education that could expose the abuses that have become a part of our understanding of the world.
Do not feel as if you can pat yourself on the back quite yet for an imagined understand of what I am saying. I bring all this up not because I believe many who read this are abusers. Our republican candidate has normalized and legitimized abuser speaking tactics– and I am talking before the audio was released of him bragging about assault. I have listed some of them here (not as a political statement but as a reminder that behaving this way to a person is unacceptable, manipulative, and a way to remain in control) so that we can all take the time check ourselves, our friends, and our family. These are randomly gathered from several resources- feel free to do your own research.
- Blame you when you get angry, but does not take responsibility for his or her own behavior.
- Complain about the way you talk and dress.
- Twist your words and misinterpret what you say.
- Ignore or invalidate your feelings.
- Make sarcastic comments and then tell you you’re misunderstanding them.
- Humiliate you publicly or privately.
- Make fun of people or things important to you.
- Repeatedly bring up past arguments or disagreements, while refusing to have instructive discussion on how to solve the problem at-hand./ continues to say the same thing over and over
- Ridicule you, then tell you he or she is joking.
- Treat you as if you are the child and he or she is the parent.
- Abuser does not let other speak by butting in or talking over
- Calls you names (stupid, slut, whore, crazy)
- Unpredictable violent outburst
Since Trump has now created a very low standard for treatment of women, it is easy to feel that, as people who are not publicly and nationally bragging about sexual assault, we are not contributing to an environment of abuse. But our language and words can, and if we are not aware of the implications of our actions, then we are part of the problem.
In the safety of my current life, here in Vermont where I feel love and support from so many empathetic and knowledgable people, I wonder at my emotional responses to these issues of domestic abuse which I felt I had left a lifetime away. I wonder how I can feel such deep resounding sadness and anger when I now have control and freedom over my own safe living situations.
Does this all feel like a repeat of everything else you have read on social media?
It has taken me a long time to find comfort in speaking out again unjust behavior and treatment of women. In college I could not acknowledge rape as friends drunkingly forced themselves on semi-conscious girls. I was embarrassed as friends were pushed out of college parties for calling out men for treating women inhumanely and saying terrible things. I felt like feminism was man-shamming and disassociated. I share this because I get it- I used to keep quiet too.
Today, though, I am tired of feeling out of line for calling out people for inappropriate behavior, for feeling like a burden or sensitive when I express feeling uncomfortable over someone’s treatment and reference to women, and for feeling like my insistence of checking our language somehow makes me condescending. I feel like we all here (being more in the sense of association) identify as progressive, but each time I stick my head out on the line I feel vulnerable.
In the second debate, Trump’s response to the leaked audio of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women he said,
“They are just words.. anyone who knows me knows that they do not reflect who I am.”
But words do reflect who you are. Is that the kind of people we want to be?
“The truth is it hurts. It is like that sick sinking feeling you get when you are walking minding your own business, and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It is that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced themselves on them and they said no but he didn’t listen.”
Let us all take the time to listen.