Protest Against Rape: Monday * May be triggering *

Before the reader embarks on reading these poems, the editors stress that some content may be found disturbing, troubling or even distressing. Sexual violence is an emotive subject, and some writing about rape is as exploitative as the crime itself. Such writing in the context of politics, the media or literature can constitute a “double violation” for the rape survivor who lives the experience for a second time: the experience of “triggering”. Encounters with sexual violence as a subject for literature demand caution, care and respect, but an interrogation of “rape myths” is necessary. The poems selected break the silence of the status-quo, which defines sexual violence as a freak event rather than part of a dominative “rape culture”. This protest is the beginning of a conversation that seeks recuperation, healing and redress.
 
Please note that submissions are closed. 
 
The introduction to our protest can be read here.
 
Please refer to our list of International Resources for Rape Support here.

 
 

© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

© Lien Botha, from Portrette (1995)

 
Rape Poem
Marge Piercy
 
 
There is no difference between being raped
and being pushed down a flight of cement steps
except that the wounds also bleed inside.

There is no difference between being raped
and being run over by a truck
except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.

There is no difference between being raped
and being bit on the ankle by a rattlesnake
except that people ask if your skirt was short
and why you were out alone anyhow.

There is no difference between being raped
and going head first through a windshield
except that afterward you are afraid
not of cars
but half the human race.

The rapist is your boyfriend’s brother.
He sits beside you in the movies eating popcorn.
Rape fattens on the fantasies of the normal male
like a maggot in garbage.

Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing
all of the time on a woman’s hunched back.
Never to stroll alone on a sand road through pine woods,
never to climb a trail across a bald
without that aluminum in the mouth
when I see a man climbing toward me.

Never to open the door to a knock
without that razor just grazing the throat.
The fear of the dark side of hedges
the back seat of the car, the empty house
rattling keys like a snake’s warning.
The fear of the smiling man
in whose pocket is a knife.
The fear of the serious man
in whose fist is locked hatred.

All it takes to cast a rapist to be able to see your body
as jackhammer, as blowtorch, as adding-machine-gun.
All it takes is hating that body
your own, your self, your muscle that softens to flab.

All it takes is to push what you hate,
what you fear onto the soft alien flesh.
To bucket out invincible as a tank
armored with treads without senses
to possess and punish in one act,
to rip up pleasure, to murder those who dare
live in the leafy flesh open to love.
 
 
 
Published in Circles in the Water (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
  
 
 

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica, unique edition

 
 
Bang bang
Victoria Bean
 
 
I’m on my way
to Hades, ladies

you coming?
Ladies lie

on concrete
still and listen

while they cry –
it’s war baby.

So who’s the one
they can’t forgive?

The one who says
you’ll live, or

the one who says
they’re sorry.
 
 
 

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘On The Edge of Time’
Oil painting

 
 
I Give You Back
Joy Harjo
 
 
I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my house, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
                                                 of dying.
 
 
 
Published in How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975 – 2001
(W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn Helvetica

 
 
Growing Grove of Laurel Trees
Valeria Melchioretto
 
 
Below the belt where the Gordian Knot is still uncut
ancient Aphrodite long since confused love and lust
while seedy Zeus is free to rule with phallic thunder.

No disguise is too sly as he hunts with crude desire:
He turns into a swan, a white bull or a pissy shower
exploits and cons and conquers through selfish power.

Did no one dare protest about these sickening deeds?
Phlegyas faced the Gods and was punished in return
seen by Dante in the circle of hell where the sullen dwell.

Poor Castalia got away by becoming a speaking spring
and those who drink from her can hear a lyric lament
others were spared as Gaia turned them into laurel trees.

Because white noise has it that in that oracular tradition
even a tree is more sacred than a woman’s dignity.
Endless list of victims: Coronis, Europa, Leda, Melia.

Unwilling nymphs are labelled ‘lying nymphomaniacs’
taken to shameful woods and dragged through mire
then banned to Lesbos, lonely rocks or harder places.

If offspring hatched from eggs foul play was obvious
but subtler hints were denied even by night’s furies.
Zeus begot Apollo, rape begot rape; the curse stayed myth.
 
 
 

© Alel

© Alel

 
 
From Philomela
Gill McEvoy
 
 
It
 
 
I touch the cigarette
to my arm.
Here. And here.

I cannot speak of it.

I could touch this fuse
to my chair,
watch it smoulder,
flame to roaring fury.

I told no-one.

The burned flesh is not
the heat of his hand
across my mouth.

The sour smell of match
is not the stink of his breath.

I didn’t go to the police.

I wasn’t asking for it.

I was not asking for it.
 
 
 
Unwanted
 
 
I have cancelled
the way my body could not fight
the rugby scrum of him.

The little heartbeat I will say
is my own heartbeat.

When its time comes
I’ll demand strong drugs.

It will be handed on
to someone else.

And none of this will have happened.
 
 
 
Back Street
 
 
They lead me to a table
where later they will sit and eat.

The women weave about with bowls and cloths,
fold my trembling legs to raise my knees.

One draws on rubber gloves.
She takes a pump, its ball bright orange
in that room of hush and shadow.

They close around me,
hissing through my parted knees
in their strange tongue,
each one familiar with this art.

Pain. The room goes dark.

Out of the darkness
someone whispers, “Come!”

They make me totter to the street.
I find my way alone,
clutching at walls.
 
 
 

© Malgorzata Lazarek

© Malgorzata Lazarek

 
 
Phylactery
Sophie Mayer
 
 
My mouth used to hold
your water. A vase I was (say:
vessel) all floral-spoked
& speaking: pure pure pure
as law. This

knuckle clavicle

mouthful
chewed & throated to you. Choker,
much. Narrow as they say &
swallow.

o my mouth

knuckle clavicle

unholds your water,
sweet source. Loosener,
marsh-runner, our lady of
statuary hung among
trees. Chatelaine of strange
fruit & the bloodied tunic.
Found object, little wing,
thin veneer of angel
on the verge. Kill me
now, before I turn, before
I fly. I

knuckle clavicle

mouth an O
cannot no
let him leave me
from you. No
nock me, fingers
to my fletch, forever
your girl, prayerful
this fall & broken no

knuckle
clavicle

that I am no woman no
dawn gives thanks.
Thirteen times
& strike.
 
 
 
Note: Phylactery – or tefillin – are leather arm bindings worn by observant Jewish men for morning prayers, which include an expression of gratitude to God that he had not made them female.
 
 
 

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

© Victoria Bean, ‘Bang bang’, hand sewn lower case Helvetica

 
 
Madhavesana
Shazea Quraishi
 
 
Once more this
pressing of bodies, his desire
beating against me as the eagle’s wings
against the air that lifts him up, up.

My body has learned to soften
and bend, but my heart,
like a child who will not listen, clings
to a soft, grubby thing.

After I have washed the sweat,
the trails of saliva from my skin,
I stand at the open window,
let the breeze dry my face.
 
 
 
Published in The Courtesans Reply (flipped eye publishing, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

© Diane Victor, ‘Little straight dress’

 
 
Lesson from the Gospel
Helen Moffett
 
 
Last night he grabbed my breast,
jerked my hair, called me a whore;
this morning he kneels in church,
eyes shut, hands devout in prayer.
This diptych is no stranger to God’s house:
first, the outrages raining on egg-shell flesh
and reeling ears; next, the pose of public piety.

These events transpired half a life ago.
No helplines then, no thought of blaming
anyone but myself.

But God helps those who help themselves;
like countless others, I survived.
While church, state and law all looked aside,
I harvested a rustling crop of rage:
as a child who tilts a bubbling pot knows pain –
I’d know the stink of whitened sepulchre again.
 
 
 
Published in Incwadi.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
  
 
 

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from the collection ‘Not just an ICON …’

© Virginia Erdie, ‘Tangerine Dream’ from ‘Not just an ICON …’
36″ x 36″ on wood, with cardboard, molding paste and resin

 
 
Hide
Helen Ivory
 
 
My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.
 
 
 
Published in Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘First Breath’
Oil painting


 
Glow
Karen Jane Cannon
 
 
You cloud lenses, suck
colour from the earth to enhance your glow.

Your sister moon brings peace, monthly flows
but you burn with a desire to steal

the glow of young girls, inflict
wounds too deep to salve.

You eat away what the moon has given.
Demeter—forcefeed

Persephone on pomegranate seeds,
keep her safe in her underworld winter. Let other girls

throw away their clothes, be betrayed
by cancerous rays. Hide

in the shadow of a sundial, worship
a plummeting vial of mercury.
 
 
 

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘Loss’

 
 
From ‘Demeter’
Emer Gillespie

IX
 
 
For nine days and nine longer nights,
I searched everywhere.
In shopping malls I put up posters of my daughter,
‘Missing’. In Westfield, gangs of girls linked arms
and passed them by without looking.
The hive hummed on without her.
In ancient times the Minotaur was locked up
deep within the bowels of the Earth.
A winding maze, a Labyrinth,
designed by Daedalus, father of ambitious Icarus,
kept him in his place. The price?
Seven boys and seven girls brought to
satisfy his appetite for human flesh.
All know that Theseus defeated him.
The Minotaur is dead, but the Beast lives on.
This annual harvest of our girls –
year in, year out, it comes about;
no one knows who next or when.
At least in ancient times the victims
found some glory. Their plight, their sacrifice,
bought freedom for the rest.
Now we lose our perfect daughters one by one.
Each sordid story soils our whole society.
I knew someone had seen just her sex –
not my Persephone.
 
 
 
Published in The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

 
 
 
A Prayer for my Children
Geoffrey Philp
 
 
When you find yourself in a faraway land
surrounded by men, animals that mutter strange
sounds, do not be afraid: neither you, your parents,

nor your ancestors have ever been alone.
So trust the earth to bear you up, follow
the wind as it leads you through valleys

clustered with trees heavy with fruit –
some that seem familiar enough to eat,
but you still aren’t sure they are the same

as the ones you left on the other side
of the river that you’ve now forgotten.
Eat. Feast on the bounty. Feed the fire

that burns away the knot in your stomach,
sets ablaze the horizon, all that your eyes
can see – that has been promised

to you since your cry pierced the morning air:
your parents bathed you with kisses,
baptized you with caresses,

swaddled you in care before you uttered
your first words to the moon, sun, stars,
wobbled your first steps into unknowing –

all the while rising into your inheritance.
And if you awaken under the branches of a cotton
tree, cradled in its roots, draw a circle around

yourself and all those whom you love, cross
yourself three times before you step over
the threshold. Welcome the ancestors,

all the kindly spirits who have followed you,
your parents across many seas, oceans,
and deserts; entertain them with strong drink

and soft food: rice, yams, bananas, the ever
present rum to bless the hands that have lifted
you up, and sanctified the place you now call home.
 
 
 
Published in Dub Wise (Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.

6 thoughts on “Protest Against Rape: Monday * May be triggering *

  1. Karin Schimke

    Michelle, your selection shows a wisdom and sensitivity that leaves me full of respect. What dignity you and the contributors have brought to this. Thank you.

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