Save the Apology

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older poetry with you! Content Warning: this one is about the sexual assault I experienced in college and I wrote it in response to finding out a powerful person at that college was sexually abusing young women. You can read the fully story of my assault on Our Stories Untold (OSU), as well as watch a video of me performing this poem in April 2016 OSU (now merged with IntoAccount) is a wonderful, supportive space where survivors and allies can share stories, cry together, love together, advocate for one another, and hold institutions and individuals accountable. Love, light, strength, and courage to all you survivors and supporters of survivors. You are not alone.
–The Vocal Poetess

* * *

“We’ll do better next time.”
“We’re so sorry.”
It’s the same apology after every
heavy indiscretion, forced confession,
by one of their own comes into the light.
After nights of lurking beneath the surface
the lip service they now pay
is a way to diffuse the “issue,”
“Here honey, have a tissue.
But please don’t ask us for empathy
or accountability, assistance,
in this instance our hands are tied
we had no idea the monster he was inside.”

Nobody wants to admit fault
when it comes to sexual assault
and the ways in which its downplayed,
displayed, smoothed over, pushed under
the rug, “Oh she was on drugs,
wore something too short, too tight
she’d been drinking that night.”
And so what if she was,
so what if she did?
Let’s stop the shaming
that is victim blaming by naming it
for what it really is:
your own fear that you may have just fucked up
or been found out
so you raise doubts
about her character and actions
in hopes that the factions
it creates will shift the focus on her
and not your bogus excuses for the abuses
she suffered at your hands.

You bet on your friends and institutions
to come up with solutions for your absolution
and you counted on her silence
to somehow equal compliance
with what you did.
But you didn’t count on this.
You didn’t count on the power of her voice
to rock the earth to its core
to toss waves onto the shore
her emotions calling up a tide
as deep and wide as any ocean.
You didn’t count on generations
of her people to create a nation
from every corner of creation
to undergird her, surround her,
ground her in her truth and boldness,
they hold this
with her when she can
and for her when she can’t.

You may not ever admit or even say
that what you did was rape
but that does not make
my truth any less sacred or true.
I told you “no” and you chose
to silence me with your vocal blows
and the power of your body over mine.
And when I confronted you that time
to find out why you did it
your response was,
“How could I have raped you if I didn’t even finish?”
The fact that you raped me
is not dependent on you cumming
or not
on whether you enjoyed it
or not
on whether you thought
I enjoyed it.
It’s about what I consented to
and you knew
that you didn’t get my yes
which is why you choose to profess
and protest the rape you committed
in such rage and lividness.

And I hate to admit to me
that I have to see your humanity
is somehow connected to my own
but, my God, my being groans
at the thought of it.
I’m enraged and I want you to know it
and I show it because I’ve held it in for far too long
it doesn’t belong inside me
where it festers and burns
turns me into someone I don’t recognize.
Your lies will not bring my demise,
oh I’ve thought of suicide
on the worst days
and been dazed and depressed on the best
but you won’t get the rest
of me
I’m setting you free.
Be gone.

And for those who hid your actions
and caused distractions
from the truth,
I have words for you too:
I’m calling bullshit
on your counterfeit lines.
Don’t do better next time.
Do better now
so next time
won’t be allowed
to happen.

We can do better

Spring Time Blues

It’s Monday which means I’m sharing some of my older poetry! This is another one in my series about sexual harassment.

* * *

It’s that time of the year once again
when the leaves are sprouting from the trees
bees buzzing on the budding blossoms
and the weather has me feeling awesome
until you come along.

Sometimes you’re with a group of friends
in the park or the end of my sidewalk
gawking at me as I cross.
Other times you’re coming out of a store
or lurking on the corner alone
it really doesn’t matter though
because your tone
is always the same:

“Hey baby, looking good.
I wish you would
sit on my face,
give me a taste.”
Or you make some perverted sound
with your mouth
some grotesque gesture or movement
with the intent to get my attention.

Or you yell from across the way,
“Hey beautiful, wanna make my day?”
and you expect my dutiful
reaction to be, “Awww thank you.”
And maybe I’ll throw in
a few giggles or a grin
just to prove the state you put me in.

But if I choose to ignore you
or worse yet, reject your advances
your stance is no longer sugary sweet,
it changed to anger and hate in a heartbeat.
“Bitch. You’re ugly anyway.
There’s no way I’d fuck you.”
Aww well now I’m really upset
because the whole reason I got dressed
was so I could walk down my street
and hear you say shit to me.

You think you’re a man because you stand
in the street yelling obscenities
to any piece of meat or ass
that happens to pass by
all just to prove to your friends
that you really can
get the attention of a woman.
Or may it’s to compensate for–
wait, let me not stoop to emasculate you
you’re doing that own your own, boo.
Or maybe your intention is just to work
so you have something to jerk off to
at the end of the day.

But it’s all a just a power play
and, anyway, we see right through you.
You really think your catcalls
make me want to do you?
Honestly, when you ask me
to sit on your face
you really expect me to say,
“Sure, name the time and place?!”

No, all you want to show me
is that you own me
and that I owe you gratitude
for your attitude of “sweetness.”
But get this,
I owe you nothing.
You don’t own me
any more than you own this street
or this air or this sidewalk or these stairs.

Grow up, have some respect
women aren’t objects.
You should have learned that by now
and, anyhow, what would your grandma
or mom or sister say
to hear you speak to women this way?

So next time you see me coming
and you really want to something,
swallow your words,
savor their bitter flavor
do us all a favor,
and don’t.

DSC_0547_905
An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
DSC_1273_905
An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
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An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.
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An image from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s art series Stop Telling Women to Smile.

“Not All Men”

Ok, so I said I’d post new poetry every Thursday but I’ve been processing a situation where I was sexually harassed at work and this poem just can’t wait a week. Listen along here.
— The Vocal Poetess

* * *
It started relatively small,
relatively benign
as often times these things do.
You
would bump into me where I was standing
and your hand would graze my backside
and I’d let it go,
forgoing the warning signs in my mind:
Maybe it really was an accident,
he probably meant nothing by it.

But then you’d try it again.
And then you’d become more bold
and hold your hands on my hips
as you dipped behind me,
seizing an opportunity
to use a crowded space as a place
to slide your dick across my ass
in the pretense of just “passing by.”
“Coming through,” you’d say
as you’d have your way with me,
freely rubbing your disgusting manhood
(should I even call it that?!)
across the back of me.

And what did I do?
Nothing.
Not a damn thing.
And I am stinging with rage
and mountains of shame
and blame for myself
because of your selfish ways.
All day I chided myself,
beating myself up
for not speaking up,
for not uttering any words,
but would you have heard
them anyway?

The truth is you didn’t need me to say,
“Stop!” or “Get off!”
for you to know it was wrong.
And all along,
I’ve been putting that on me,
Oh he couldn’t see
how bad his behavior was
because I never told him.
Yet again another victim
blaming herself for the sins
of the harasser
and after all was said and done
you thought you’d won.

And I resent that
and you
and the slew of men
who continue to do nothing,
choosing cowardice,
acting as if they don’t notice.
Well I’m sick of this bullshit.
I’m done with pretending,
I’m ending that foolishness
and I insist you do the same.
When you see harassment
call it out by name,
it has no place here
or anywhere.
Stop letting fear dictate–
I’m not here to placate you.
Do better.
Men, I’m talking to you.
Do
better.

And you’d better not contend by saying,
“Not all men!”
Because if I said it once ,
I’ll say it again:
Stop passing the buck
or shucking your responsibility.
I see way too many men
content to sit back in silence
while violence happens all around them
and then they have the gall,
the wherewithal,
to say they are
“one of the good ones.”
Since when do you get a gold star
for something you haven’t done?
Sorry to spoil your fun
but no one gets off that easy.
Oh, so you’re not sleazy?
Well, good for you!
What address should I send
this gratitude check to?

Look, I don’t want you
to assume I’m not glad or relieved
that you aren’t avidly
“grabbing women by the pussy”
(which is more than I can say
for our commander in chief)
but that’s not enough for me.
Until you can be
part of the solution
you’re part of the problem.
And until then
miss me with
“Not all men.”

Take a Seat

Welcome! As I get this blog off the ground, I intend to post new poetry every Thursday and share some of my old poetry every Monday. This poem is part of my series on sexual harassment.

* * *

I hear men complaining these days, saying
“I can’t be paying women compliments
without them claiming sexual harassment.
My intent is flattery and it bothers me
that women can’t see that.
As a matter of fact,
I’m afraid that a compliment paid
will be made into a lawsuit.
What can I say or do
without it being misconstrued
or used against me?”

You want to know what you can do?
You,
really want to know what you can do?
For starters, you
can stop making this about you.
Boohooing about women misconstruing
your compliments and doings.
You’re pursuing sympathy
but you’re barking up the wrong tree.
You see, all we hear is whimpers
and nothing flares my temper
like men who act like dogs.

You’re afraid of what you can say?
Try being afraid to wake up every day
and take the subway
because a stray hand may
land on your ass or thigh.

Try being afraid to be anywhere alone,
be it at work or home,
without assessing the space
for routes of escape, just in case.

Try being afraid of someone stalking you
when you’re out walking
in your neighborhood or the woods or at night,
prepared to fight with pepper spray.

Try being afraid to report anything
because it could bring
retaliation, condemnation, termination,
or an even worse situation.

Try being afraid of your boss,
manager, or employer,
who might exploit your vulnerability,
your need for a salary.

Try being afraid to walk down the block
and hear a group of men talk
about your body in crude ways
and expect you to say, “Thank you.”

Try being afraid to speak up and out
because some men will pout
and get defensive,
which gives way to more extensive harassment.

Try being afraid to stand up for yourself
in a world that continually minimizes your wealth,
that commits violence against you,
then seeks to silence you
and make its lies the truth.

So excuse me
if I don’t feel sympathy
or shed any tears
over your infantile fears.
Stop talking and hear us,
muster the grit to sit
with discomfort of it.
For it’s a small price to pay
compared to what we face each day.

Besides, if what you were going to say
or do could be misconstrued
as poor behavior
then save your comments.
The intent
was not to compliment us
but to flatter yourself.
So put your ego on the shelf,
let your words melt
behind your teeth,
and then,
take
a
seat.