The Rape of Persephone
When I was fourteen, I learned not
to trust my beauty, my body, and
men. In that order.
Ben Link lived in my neighborhood, a
year older than me and whiteboy handsome,
straight teeth and dark eyes and a stiff
buzzcut and a virile flexing cruelty.
He would sit behind me on the bus
every morning every afternoon and
tell the person sitting next to me
that he would shoot me if he could,
that I was dirty, a border jumping bitch
that the only way someone would ever
fuck me was from behind. Transportation
turned into terror.
The ones who seemed sweet, I found, just
waited until the lights were cut. And when
the sun rose and they were done with me, they
returned to polite distance as if the betrayed
tenseness was my fault. Silence, encouraged
and enforced. Silence, ruled under military
law. For the longest time, I felt nothing,
and then one day I woke up
and everything felt red
because I had been
doing what had
been done to
discarding things once
they began to
A persian girl grows her mustache by twelve.
I used to use my father’s facial hair trimmers
to cut the hair so close to my skin it was
invisible. one morning, I took off a chunk of
my upper lip. It bled profusely for fifteen
minutes. I stepped on the bus unstaunched. Ben
and his friends laughed at me the whole way to
school. Evidence, I thought, that I was naturally
unworthy and any attempt to remedy my freakish
appearance my unstoppable gross lumbering–
evidence, I thought, rubbing the wet pain
over my lips in a satire of gloss, that
they could see through the facade to
my various transparent disfigurements.
Sometimes when men talk to me, I wonder
if the rifles are behind their backs or if
the bullets are resting on their tongues
hidden by their bared white teeth.
(My adolescence spent watching girls
get broken hearts, sure, but what I remember
best & too vividly: holding her arms,
saying, “If you said no and you didn’t
want to and he had sex with you in the
shower anyway, it’s rape. I promise.”
And her saying, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
That was when the chamber of my chest
felt most like a cavity.)
I feel like most of my contact with men
has been through a barrier of bars, brief
meetings in bursts of violence before I back
into the furthest wall and close my eyes
and compose lullabies to soothe me sightless.
Can they sense the feral fear, the raw mistrust?
Do they know how wildly I swing on the vines of fervor?
Is that why they dismiss my witchy hair & curiosity?
A scene summarizing my history and future with men:
Being called to babysit the kids down the street because
yearyounger Claudia “is growing into a beauty” and should
spend time unnetting the eyes of the boys she’s caught;
me helping little ones twist out baby teeth and reading
bedtime shark trivia with a bubbling cauldron of tar
for a stomach and the hesitant thought of
when is it my turn?
A bad omen is a black bird leaving nickels on my
windowsill or spiders nesting in the mailbox or falling
in love with the first man who will grope me laying
on gravel outside of a graveyard. A bad omen is tripping
over the confusing conflicting understanding that knowing
he could never love me back could have been because he
was a selfish drunken liar or further motivation to give him
the forceps required for my autopsy.
Nine girls are dead; they are all me. The tenth,
she isn’t better. But she is an incarnation who
lives in the present like it’s in front of her
like she is a part of it like what happened did
happen like it was lived and felt
& stays braided in her hair
like small colorful
I am an adult, having survived
debasement and destruction;
but I am also a child, having
clung to a technical state of grace
under the assumption that no good
man would ever look at me and see
anything other than a dim light
smudged by the blackened thumbprints
of his beastly brothers, a mangy
animal ravaged by its equals.