Protest Against Rape: Tuesday * 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.

  
  
 

Emmy Verschoor, 'Feeling small in a chaotic world'

Emmy Verschoor, ‘Feeling small in a chaotic world’
Acrylic on canvas 90cm x 90cm

 
 
Who

Clare Best
 
 
I am the page ripped from the book
missing and unknown

I am a key without a lock
a peach inside a stone

I am the child running the track
and the sharp right turn

I am quick to learn how not to speak
I am flame that will not burn
 
 
 
Published in Excisions (Waterloo Press, 2011).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Theresa DiMenno

© Theresa DiMenno

 
 
Dryad
Zoë Brigley
 
 
In the forest, golden light falls on pocked wood, speckled branches and damp moss.
How bodies are like that too: stretched by pain, inked and marred by indelible scars.
 
               *          *          *
 
That tree in the town where she used to live,
not far from a ruined castle, and the moat
mouthing abandoned shopping trolleys.
How she stood under the sycamore,
seedy bungalows grown up around it.
How she lived in the century-old tree
and knew the wind blow through her.
The shivering of three-fingered leaves
like a hundred jangling pains.
The growing began with the first rape:
that hurt peculiar to violation by a lover;
the particular knowledge employed
for pain or pleasure. She grasped herself
hardening: a woman in thin, smooth bark.
Wound in sopped sheets, she closed again
so nothing would enter, not ever.
 
               *          *          *
 
He is behind her now. He bites,
snatches away. He embraces her face
and fists. The incline of her dress fluttering,
blown back; branches pressed by his hands.
 
She thinks of the others: Syrinx – the reed-woman,
transformed into a mournful sound;
Pitys turned to pine, rocked by the North Wind;
and Daphne who was at least a sweet laurel.
 
We are all who have pleased too well.
“Don’t hurt me.” The bark of a prayer.
He almost has her. Now he’s sure that she’s caught.
The gale blows through her face, her tumbling hair.
 
Shadows of will trip in the breeze. Nothing to be held but a hand of leaves.
 
               *          *          *
 
How trees are like that: stretched by pain, inked and marred by indelible scars.
On a lover’s bed or deserted street, she remains a woman in smooth, thin bark.
 
 
 
Wasps' nest 
 
 
A Wasps’ Nest
Pascale Petit
 
 
“Only weak people see a therapist” he repeats.
And to stop myself from walking out

I send the warrior inside me
to search for a wasps’ nest.

I’m answering back now, asking him if
there was anything he would have changed.

He’s told me his mother was a bitch
and what the priests did in the boarding-school,

and I know that he punished my mother.
But he’s run out of breath,

he’s spitting in his jar.
A few wasps zoom into the air.

Then I see it – big as a head
and what I have to do is

hit the wasps’ nest hard.
And keep on hitting it with my fist.

Inside there’s a fat queen laying more stingers.
She’s at the centre of the combs.

Out fly her workers, diving into my hair,
stabbing my face.

I hit harder. My fist swells.
Somewhere in the nest there’s the room

where the queen will eat her daughters
when they challenge her,

there’s the buzzing sound
Father hears when he can’t breathe.

The sound I hear when I want to leave
and never come back. Not as a weakling.

I’m smashing the cell where Father lives.
The punching only stops when I pass out.
 
 
 
Published in The Zoo Father (Seren, 2001).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Malgorzata Lazarek

© Malgorzata Lazarek

 
 
The D.A. Has Polished Nails
Kirsten Dierking
 
 
I.
 
Tap, tap, tap,
her fingers on

that handsome desk,
diplomas dusted,

Too bad, she says,
you didn’t manage

a look at his face.
You’re not giving me

much to work with
you know.
 
 
II.

Fingers tapping.
What color was he?

The crackling orange
of fire licking the edge

of the bedclothes.
The scarlet of rages,

fevers and scratches.
The silver of knives.

The brassy bad luck
of lightning strikes,

the grizzled rumble
of lingering thunder

long after it’s over.
The color of bruises

or cross-stitched scars
or a hemorrhaged eye.
 
 
III.

Tap. Tap. Tap.
You’re not giving me

much to work with
you know.
 
 
IV.

No one’s been scraping
under her nails for

a skin sample.
 
 
 
Published in One Red Eye (Holy Cow! Press, 2001).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 
Candle 
 
 
The Fish
Amali Rodrigo
 
Community Panchayal directs rape accused to marry victim

– Press Trust of India, November 2004
 
 
She can remove her bra and panties
beneath the tent of a salwar kameez without
an inch of skin made visible.

She lowers her gaze in the presence of strangers
reads their feet like palms; cracked, pampered,
shod or barefoot.

She wants a husband whose feet
are not split at the heel like her father’s
or caked in mud like her brother’s.

  
1 Month Later:

Her husband-to-be has feet smooth
as de-scaled fish. The astrologer says
her first born will be ‘famous’
I think they mishear ‘miracle’.

Her family hears about a girl
who hanged herself by a dupatta and hides
all of hers. She drinks gallons of milk,
the way the Shiva Lingum is cleansed
at temples. Her bridal sari is red.

The priest blesses them with a coconut, scatters
rice for fertility – he wasn’t to know I am hiding
in the darkness inside her. She thinks his feet
are like newspaper parcels of fish,
faces sticking out, nails like flat fish eyes.

He takes her home with him that night.
His fish-feet mount hers.
I’m only a few cells along, but I know
something isn’t right

from the way she stares at his feet.
 
 
3 Months:

She leaves all his shoes in the sun
to rid them of their fish and cabbage smell.
She eats a bag of figs, then pistachios,
then walnuts and retches with such force

that I’m afraid
of being wrenched free of her.

Her mother comes to take her back home.
It doesn’t last long because all day her father
mutters like a prayer –
what will the neighbours think.

Before she leaves she sneaks her old dupattas
from the linen cupboard in with her clothes.
No one sees what she takes away with her.

I swim in pumice when she scrubs her feet.
In this house, the smell of fish doesn’t go away.

Big Fish Little Fish she murmurs to herself as she scrubs.
 
 
5 Months:

She turns sixteen today.
I don’t hear voices. Maybe he is mute.
I have not seen his face, but I would

know his feet anywhere.
 
 
7 Months:

I give myself vertigo looking at feet
upside down. I sleep curled
the way she does. We are like seahorses.

I give myself vertigo again doing hand-stands
to see the sky

when she cries outside in mangosteen-coloured nights,
we hang like bats from the sky.

His little toes are always turned sideways
for the weight of him.
The big toe has wiry whiskers on the knuckle,
like cat-fish.

The sound of fish breathing. Wet sound of fish kissing.
 
 
3 Days before My Birth:

My mother can’t sleep because I space-walk
inside her. She says:
The stench is unbearable and gets out of bed
(he is asleep).

She returns with the axe set apart
for cracking coconuts.

I must bury the dead fish she says,
looking at his feet.
I must bury the dead fish.

I am almost a miracle.
 
 
 
Notes:
 

Salwar kameez – a traditional dress in India with a flowing tunic and loose pyjama like trousers.
 

Dupatta – a long multipurpose scarf that accompanies traditional dress and is a symbol of modesty.
 

Shiva Lingum – is a phallic representation of the major Hindu deity Shiva.
 
 
 
Published in Poetry London.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Theresa DiMenno

© Theresa DiMenno

 
 
Anene
Malika Ndlovu
 
 
Daughter Anene, sunflower of Bredasdorp
At least 9 times in one morning I have heard your name
Shuddered at the details, the desecration of your body
Your temple violated by your brothers, our deranged sons
1 by 1 they witnessed, goaded, pinned and groaned
Used their hardened hands for inhumane purpose
Lost themselves as minute by minute your family
Never knew that as night fell, they were losing you
Even the sky was numb, there was no rain
Except your cries and fading tears
Running out
Of hope
Of life
Of time

Now reporters, police, community leaders and government
Repeat their statements of shock and devastation
Phrases that puzzle and amplify the situation
Not of a small town but an entire nation
Editing their piece of the story to platform their thoughts
Their declarations of intolerance and vigilance
Thousands more stunned into shaking head silence
A sigh, like a last breath, stealing our words
Hardening our backs as we feel the ricochet
Of a history of attacks dating back further
Than we care to remember, yet similar in their impact
On a collective psyche so shattered, that we think
This story thankfully is not our own, that your suffering
The bones beneath its horrific truth are best left alone

But you must know, beloved brutalised one
That there are many more, who will not forget your name
This traumatic vibration across our hearts, in our bodies
That we will listen for what lessons we can learn and teach
Deeply consider the useful questions to be asked
We will weave poems, songs, dance this February 14th
With onebillionrising all over this troubled globe
Saluting your courage and resilience to the end
In our silence, our prayers and meditations
In our speaking into this darkness
Because we believe we must all mourn
Just as hard as we must work to manifest
A healing, a less bloodletting dawn
 
 
 
Children 
 
 
To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair
Finuala Dowling
 
 
I just wanted to say on behalf of us all
that on the night in question
there was a light on in the hall
for a nervous little sleeper
and when the bleeding baby was admitted to your care
faraway a Karoo shepherd crooned a ramkietjie lullaby in the veld
and while you staunched
there was space on a mother-warmed sheet
for a night walker
and when you administered an infant-sized opiate
there were luxuriant dark nipples
for fist-clenching babes
and when you called for more blood
a bleary-eyed uncle got up to make a feed
and while you stitched
there was another chapter of a favourite story
and while you cleaned
a grandpa’s thin legs walked up and down for a colicky crier
and when finally you stood exhausted at the end of her cot
and asked, “Where is God?”,
a father sat watch.
And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust
that you would do what you did,
that you could do what you did.
We slept in trust that you lived.
 
 
 
Published in I Flying (Carapace, 2002).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Peter Hughes

© Peter Hughes

 
 
For Emma, Who Waits,
Joyce Ellen Davis
 
 
who considers murder,
her own blood dampening the straw.

In a fury as fierce and deep and hollow
as her girlhood gone to pieces

she clings to the unspeakable
things his fingers said as they ripped

the gingham: the stopped mouth, the stifled
tongue, the forced knees, the lost button.

The lost button.
She considers how the pitchfork might rise

from that Collins boy’s ribs, thinks
how her sewing scissors would slip easily

into the startled skin
of his bearded throat.

There is no pity from the angels sleeping
in their tender innocence.

No waking angel commands HALT! From the rafters.
No flaming sword drops fire from the loft.

Only the barn owl’s yellow gaze stares
back at her as the heavy wings of shame fall

across her naked breasts. How quietly she lies
as her clenched fist clings to the found button.
 
 
 

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘Low hills’

© Cassandra Gordon-Harris, ‘Low hills’
Oil painting

 
 
The Farmer’s Daughter
Michelle McGrane
 
 
She knows the mustiness of hay, and the clank of the pail in the barn at first light;
the corralled horses’ warmth and the pale eastern sun shining through the birch copse;
the path to sweet meadow grasses beyond the sea of nettles and brambles;
the sunken fenceposts, the weathered clapboard and the gaps in the floorboards.

She knows the smells of perch sizzling on the wood-stove, molasses loaves
wrapped in rum-soaked cloths, and plates piled with sawmill gravy and biscuits;
the lamplit porch and rusted chairs, the earthiness of mended boots and turnips,
the clicks and whirrs and rustles of insects in the wisteria.

She knows the rattling pickup’s headlights, the riff of sweat and moonshine
on the shawl she finds in the hickory’s shadow the day after her sister vanishes.
 
 
 
Published in Canopic Jar.
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Naomi Woddis

© Naomi Woddis

 
 
Rescue
Grace Wells
 
 
In silence I’ll descend the mountain road.
They’ll not hear the gate or the lift of the latch
as I enter the black cottage where the only light
is her own dimmed glow. But I know my way, know
he is there to the left watching the film she has begged
him not to show. Any moment, the scene
where the football jock holds the head
of that woman beneath the pool
because she won’t suck his cock under water.

And I can feel the water tear the lining of her nose,
taste it in her mouth, its throb fill her lungs,
so the gasp that echoes down the years as she finally
bursts the surface, might be my own. I can still see
her crawl away from the edge, but I’ll leave that actress
limp away, for it is not her I have come to rescue,
not her I have come to rescue but my own self, hunted
to the bedroom shadows. The children curled in cots

and no sanctuary except that last crouched corner
of the house in the hole she burrows for herself
by the floor, quaking, beyond tears, her mouth,
her lungs, her penis-choked throat denied air.
What can I say to her? A ghost-self I have no tongue.
I hover, extend my arms, the arms, images
of the grown, safe children. Scoured of faith
she will not believe, I offer her blind eyes the world,
but nothing will let her rise from this moment,
only that I stretch out my hand, lay it
on her head, on the short stubble of her hair.
 
 
 
Published in When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things (Dedalus Press, 2010).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Theresa DiMenno

© Theresa DiMenno

 
 
Clearing
Grace Wells
 
 
In winter I started, in those sparse days of low light.
I went to the back of the back field, hidden, hiding, and I began.

Ivy filleted the brambles. Elder grew awry, hawthorn
hobbled, root bound, fumbling over the tumbled wall.

Bracken encroached on the hill, spalted and matted, spare
and sparse and brown. It was January,

I was writing of the dark things he’d done; mornings
began with the tongue sealed to the roof of my mouth.

I prized free an old rose, overgrown, snarled up, thorned.
I trod the green of unseen bluebells back into the ground;

debris by the armload and sheep at my back, eating the dark
leaves where they fell and I didn’t think of cock and cunt

and the strings he pulled to move my puppet hands.
It was thorn and thicket, briar on briar till the loppers broke

snapped blade blunt in the bound knot of stem, ivy trussing trees
that wept and called out and no one heard

when I cried in the mornings, in the small room
we called the studio, sun pouring through the windows,

my white tissues heaping like snow. I wasn’t just weeping.
I spat. Rocking on my heels, fists at my eyes and on them

the scars of blackberry vines sewn through the old hedgerow,
thrusted deep, binding tighter, over, under, over

an impossible maze, impenetrable forest: undefeatable creature.
I cut and pulled, reeling wires of briar behind me, piling,

walling myself in, then sifting it all again, forking back and forth
over the field, building a bonfire higher than a man.

I was deranged. Time against me. The days short and new months
Falling fast, so I was driven, pursued. The red fox

of ambition never far off. I didn’t know it would take a year,
a whole year. The cured hedgerows leafed and emptied,

the black pool of fire’s scar grown over before I’d write
the last word, close those covers,
walk once more into the shimmering world.
 
 
 
First published in When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things (Dedalus Press, 2010).
Reproduced with the author’s permission.
 
 
 

© Naomi Woddis

© Naomi Woddis

 
 
promised info
Nia Davies
 
 
1. people stick to death, she said
the lips are always mobile, they are agents
you need to pay attention

2. networks are great for making good things happen, the earth &
networks are great for spreading info
and for finding people who agree with you

3. a fortune, of lyric, good health
he had five character witnesses
slowly after hours of

4. it’s really so peaceful here on the internet,
except in moments when

5. Salubrious Place is a street in Swansea that is particularly dull
strangerhood you can find you anywhere
all hours, minnows
absinthe blue

6. each of these witnesses was a friend’s mother, or his mother’s friends
the real thing

7. I have learnt not to ask why too many times
it is simple
and difficult to reverse disgust

8. it was very easy to cut them out
notions can be stripped away

9. some of my emails carry no meaning and are irrelevant here
the incident is symbolised for me by a gate
networks great for buying anything you like

10. people stick to ‘truth’
the minnow lyric, statement &
five pairs of lips speaking
what they said is

11. you need to tell the truth, she said
who knows why I chose a gate
at the end of a front garden
 
 
 

© Lauren Jivani

© Lauren Jivani

 
 
I cry when he tries to put his hands on me or kiss me
Daniel Sluman
 
 
you said       his face coming & going in storms
as you told me how his nails slipped into you

like wine    you singed your eyes shut

dreamt of a perfectly-suited husband
but the image was interrupted by his grunts

& all the flowers turned    into themselves

in disgust      the hole-punch moon   mute
as you stared beyond his shoulder

& all that feeling dissolved away

your mother’s voice a penny shaking
in your head    both our heads

when I try to kiss the mascara from your eyes

& you shake so hard   saying it’s not you
please understand it’s not you
 
 
 

© Patricia Wallace Jones, 'The Women in the Window'

© Patricia Wallace Jones, ‘The Women in the Window’

 
 
Deadwood
James Wood
 
eald is thys eorthsaele/ond eal ic eom oflongad
 
 
I remember the suits
He used to wear
To the office: now he’s gone.
In the garden, he’d root
Up all the deadwood, weeds,

Cut and trim the grass
To a fine edge. They give me tea
To keep me awake in this home,
And pills that help me forget
My marriage, that big mistake.

My dress white, his black tie:
I still nod off sometimes,
Remembering his arms pinning
Me down to the ground,
His heart on my heart

And my mind elsewhere. There
Were drinks, then he’d beat me,
Then after, the blank promise
That he’d never dare
Do it again. Now I see

How wrong he was. And when
They told me he was dead
I felt his fingers spelling out
My name in hell. I knew then
Nothing could be said

To rid me of him. Outside
The rain falls and they’re getting drunk
On the green where we’d put up
The Maypole. The tears
I’ve cried are all the love

I ever knew. Now I’m rain
On this nursing home window,
Slipping away into nothingness:
I came from the sky to the ground
In search of a refuge I never found.
 
 
 

© Lorraine Adams

© Lorraine Adams

 
 
The Tear
Janet Rogerson
 
 
The tear was one inch
below her right eye.
Left undisturbed it would glint
and wobble when she talked or laughed.
It would stay there indefinitely,
she was used to it.
People who didn’t know her would offer
a tissue. Bold, good-looking men
would sometimes brush a rough hand
softly across her cheek. Her eye
would fill up like an actress
and a fresh tear would fall
so quickly down
and stop abruptly
in the exact same place,
this always affected them.
Scientists were fascinated, doctors
could not explain it,
though there had been tests.
She was invited to conferences
and even asked to appear on television.
She had learned to accept her unusual
affliction, and the attention
it caused; people called
her love and tilted their heads.
There had been a time
when she had felt so ashamed
she would constantly wipe the tear away
until her eye was scarlet and swollen.
One thing she had never told anyone:
if she wiped the tear away herself
the droplet burned her skin like
she imagined acid would,
though it left no scar.
A second thing she had never told anyone
was what they did that night, all those
years ago, the day the tear appeared.

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