First Visit to the Sister Survivors Exhibit at the MSU Museum
The teal ribbon was chosen to represent sexual assault
in July of 2000 by the National Sexual Violence
Resource Center, along with the designation that April
would be the month dedicated to honoring survivors.
The chiffon butterflies that vine across the ceiling
are delicate as my grandmother’s lips, smiling into me;
her teal eyes coding themselves into every bright angle
of light that turn out to be a spotlight on a face.
Wrinkled trees—delimbed—stand like a copse
of petrified saints in the corner of the room, gauze tied
at their waists, tiny like my waist
when I was a bubbly two-year-old balanced on her lap
and beaming into a camera for the photograph
that now hangs in my parents’ apartment. All
I remember of this woman rushes into the present,
my body seizing with the realization
that she might not have died soon enough,
mere months after the photograph. That she might
have come close to me after a man molested me—
an event six years in my future—
and I might have, with disfigured perception,
distrusted her kindness for many years after that. I scope
the museum walls finally settling on
an inscription: you handed me a pin from the 2012 Olympics
to ensure my silence, telling me how special I was. I was
special, bouncing on her knee three or four times
so she could get me to smile for the camera.
She made popping and cooing noises to encourage
laughter and compliance—an ugly gesture
out of context. I suffered, reads another inscription,
but I told myself to be tough. Soft baby skin folded around
her hands, her slender manicured fingers
circumferencing my body as she bears
her pearly white teeth at me and I bear mine—
impossibly dainty and straight—toward the camera man,
he and grandmother working hard to capture
my attention and maintain a cheery expression
so I will maintain mine. A balancing act.
For years, the inscription laments, I had this atrocious secret
and fear. I felt so much shame and embarrassment.
I feel the flinching in my body while standing
in this room alive as a tomb where her perfumed image
materializes suddenly and bends close to mine,
teal eyes smiling, soft lips lilting into my lost little
face—hands holding out a candy for her ‘special girl.’
It has taken me a long time to realize I am human
due to the guttural sound I make
when I’m not having a good time, or the chirp
I feel when suddenly cornered by a man twice my size
who has just decided I am the one thing
he can’t let escape from his life—such innocent
captivity—and the blimp of speech rising to my throat
as though I am about to lay a very large egg,
blup, blup, blup, tubular speech attempting to make
linear the circular. Trauma
is funny. I’m starring at my phone, safe distance
between us, trying to explain
in a very long text that I’m not crazy. Not really.
And using some educated jargon,
I give details about how the past intrudes into
the present and how this is scar tissue in my bone
and in my veins, an internal tattoo.
I’m rolling up my sleeves now to show the guy
on the other end of this conversation all its intricate
detail. Really, I say, it is beautiful. It’s part of me.
But he can’t see it. This is all in text.
Because by now I’m afraid to confront him face to face—
to say that what I meant to say is I never wanted
his attention this way, never wanted to be caught,
didn’t need to be explained, I wasn’t hunting or up for
a cat-and-mouse game, but what I do
is stumble, fidget with the verbiage, freeze, pretend
he had my full attention, smile into his dark brown eyes
and all-too-compassionate expression, soft brown
hair in waves. The arch of his body transporting me
to the arch of his body over me—
that other man from my childhood that animates
my memory and molests my protests and questions away—
and his mouth telling me it’s ok,
your parents said I could do this as he fingers the switch
controlling my whole body,
turns me on, turns me off, turns me on, turns me off,
then ghosts—never answers any of my texts.
* First published in Borderlands: A Texas Literary Review 52
Because of the ubiquitous spraying of Roundup
on corn and soy that have been genetically modified
to resist herbicides, the monarch
is in bad trouble in the core of its range,
where its sole host plant, milkweed, is disappearing.
Center for Biological Diversity
Each year, monarchs re-populate in the Corn Belt,
that vast agricultural region in America’s heartland
where they lay their eggs on milkweed plants
in spring while migrating north to Canada.
My friend Cruz and I stand in what used to be
a cornfield, now his handiwork of garden plots
for immigrant families and milkweed plants
to provide a landing pad for sojourning monarchs
to lay their eggs. Here, they reproduce,
and the caterpillars are sometimes whisked into jars
and kept in homes, then freed after incubation
to ensure that yet another butterfly survives the season
despite their overall declining numbers worldwide.
I hold my own jar frocked with milkweed stem
as Cruz tells me how long until the caterpillar
will incubate and how long incubation will be. But,
once home the caterpillar eats and eats its way
up the stem in the jar then dies there,
a long white string extending from its body.
My daughter says that this string is a sign of a pre-
existing parasite. Not your fault mom, she says
starring into her computer where she reads all about
monarch diseases and death. Still,
that gnawing sensation that I failed a whole species
by not saving this one, not knowing what could have
been done to cure it of the tiny predator under
its flesh. Peering into the glass jar, insect shriveled
and dangling, I am reminded that three years ago,
my family witnessed my shaken mind as the memories
of childhood sexual assault came rushing back
and, like a tiny predator, traveled through my psyche
feasting on the tissue of my present and future
with terrors from my past. They watched,
but could do nothing to save me from this unraveling
and, in their own fear of exposure
as helpless and vulnerable gods, accused me then
and there of dying, then turned away—
as I began, alone, working out my narratives
hoping they would appreciate my trying.
The caterpillar hung in the jar for a whole two weeks
before I decided to clean it out as I let our mutual
helplessness exist between us, refusing to ignore
its obvious shame. Love is never a failure, a friend of mine
tells me, and I know he means to add, even if its lost.
I caress the side of the jar consoling myself concerning
this dead would-be monarch, its tiny
fingerlike worm sutured to the lid knowing how long
and hard it fought to accomplish just this much.
* First published in About Place Journal V 6.2