Ten Women I Have Been Warned Against Becoming:
1. The Girl Who Takes Up Too Much Space, always, her shoulders too wide in stairwells, her hips too big in doorways, her voice too loud in classes. This woman does not understand the art of crumbling, of curling herself tight like the spiral of a fern, soft, delicate, unwilling to reach out the ivy of her fingers to grasp onto what should rightfully be hers. This is a beast, an elephant, a moving mountain and she is capable of flattening you, she is capable of ruining you, she is capable of making you feel as small and insignificant in her life as she is supposed to be. You are this woman’s footnote to history, you are her side note in song lyrics, you are constantly interrupted by her with a witty joke you wish you thought of. I asked what the problem was with being a steamroller instead of a sunflower and I was laughed down.
2. The Beautiful One, the long hair or the slim waist or the pretty eyes or the lips like bowstrings. This woman looks good in everything because she’s confident in whatever you put her in. She’ll cut her hair short on you no matter how you like it, she’ll wear high heels and step on your opinions, she’ll look hot as hell no matter what size she is. See, the reason you can’t trust her is because women like this don’t need your permission, they’ll do as they please and get away with it. They’ll say no to you, over and over. Teach your daughters that beautiful means dangerous, teach them to distrust women who love themselves. Equate beautiful with vapid, equate pretty with stupid, take their power from them. Say they’re vain for their makeup, refuse to see them without it. These women are snakes, they are serpents. I said maybe the problem lies with you being unable to control yourself and was told to get off my pedestal.
3. A Bitch. Women are supposed to be ladies in the street but will tear skin under sheets. I’m told: Never raise your voice. Speak gently. Submit. Hold your opinion against your lips and when you admit to it, make sure it comes out as a butterfly wing suggestion. Don’t disagree. Don’t undermine someone else’s authority, regardless of whether or not they deserve your respect. Someone touches you, just move away from them. Don’t hit. Don’t talk back. Be like the ruins of Rome, only beautiful if you can’t hear your quiet death.
4. The Needy One. I have heard how others spit when they talk about how she gave you everything and you shoved it back down her throat until she choked on it, until she came back crawling and asked you what she did, until her palms and knees were scraped for want of just a little affection - never be this woman, I’m told, because she’s a joke and the joke is that she dared to have more emotion than you did. The truth is, I’m told, the one who cares less in a partnership is the one who wins. I didn’t know this was a competition.
5. The Cock Tease, certified stripper, how dare that girl look like that and not want me to sleep with her. Lust is always personified as a lady in red with a dress slit up her thigh. Lust is sinful because it’s power, it’s not asking for attention - it’s demanding it. I’m told she is the worst kind of woman, that looking good is supposed to be some kind of shame on her kin. I’m told not to leave the house in such a short skirt, not with a shirt so low, not with a lace back, not with high heels, not dressed like that. My lipstick can’t be too red, my hair can’t be too mussed, I can’t just “turn someone on like that and then leave them wanting.” I mentioned that instant gratification actually ruins our psyche and was told that being led on was “exhausting.” I said that there was a difference between purposefully tricking someone into liking you and just being attractive or friendly. I was told there’s also a difference between coffee and tea but both result in caffeine. I said, “I’ve been turned on in class by the girls I talk to but I didn’t expect anything from them,” and they said, “It’s different, you’re not a man,” but couldn’t explain where that difference was.
6. A Slut, obviously ruined by another person’s touch. It doesn’t matter how many people she’s actually been with, it’s all about the rumors she carries with her. Easy. Harlot. You’ll still try to get with her, you’ll still take her into your bed and kiss her and say things you don’t mean - but you’ll defame her name when you talk to your buddies. My father used to say “A slut is fine for the night, but the virgin is who you take home and marry.” Maybe he didn’t know he was teaching his daughter to hate her sexuality. Maybe he didn’t know that every time she’d be kissed, her whole system would shake until she felt ready to combust, shame and self-hatred shivering against her spine. Maybe he didn’t know she’d disconnect emotions and sex because he always told her, “Boys are different, they won’t care about you.” Nobody said to her that it was okay to experiment. See, the funny thing is, I’m a dancer so I know exactly where my center of gravity is. I know how hard I’ll fall in each direction. Yet out of fear of getting hurt, I won’t let a single person inside of my bed.
7. The Soulmate. Never love romance more than you love being cynical. Never show weakness, never like pink, never think maybe you might find someone nice and settle down with them. Someone will find you, I was told, And if you’re lucky, he’ll put up with you when you start getting old. Never be the woman who believes in happily ever after, never be dumb enough to think maybe someone could love you after all of your mistakes. It has nothing to do with whether or not a family is important to you and you’re in a good place where a relationship would make your life better - you’re not a princess. You don’t get married, you settle.
8. The Girl With Strength, who can outrun everyone and who is stronger than her boyfriend. “See the thing about boys,” says my daddy, “Is that you have to let them win.” I sat at home and read stories about Artemis and wanted to become the huntress, too. I wanted to howl at the moon, I wanted to slay the beasts that bested me, I wanted to rule my kingdom with bloody fists. But girls are never athletes, never supposed to be “built,” regardless of the fact civilizations were constructed on our spines and we made homes in war by the steel of our ribs. Never be strong. We are supposed to wilt.
9. The Lady CEO: because if you choose work over family, are you really a girl? How dare you fight your way to the top through every pair of eyes that bore through your blouse, through every meeting where you were hushed by the sound of someone else talking, through every time someone called you “sweetie,” how dare you yearn for something. Is your husband the stay-at-home one? I can’t imagine how that is going. He’s not a real man, after all. I don’t give it long before the divorce. How dare you decide you’re happy being single. Don’t you know you’re supposed to bear children. Where is your honor? Where is your wisdom? Who cares if you are the leader, the best suited for your position, the quickest-thinking, the one who makes the hardest clients come back again. Don’t you see? Across history, women have been terrible at success. They always lose their man in the end. (When I said, “I would rather be a famous author than a mediocre mother,” I was told, “No, don’t worry, you’ll be a fine mommy.”)
10. THE GIRL I AM: FIRECRACKER AND DON’T YOU FUCKING FORGET IT I’LL RIP YOU TO SHREDS AND I WON’T FUCKING REGRET IT I’M NOT YOUR PRETTY GIRL I’M NOT YOUR ANYTHING I’M PERFECT, MOTHERFUCKER, AND I’M NOT GOING TO GIVE UP WHAT I’M DOING. I DON’T WANT TO BE “LADYLIKE” THAT LITERALLY MEANS NOTHING I’M NOT GOING TO STOP STANDING UP AND DEMANDING WHAT’S COMING TO ME. I’M GONNA BE SOMEBODY. I’M GONNA MAKE THEM REMEMBER ME. I REFUSE TO BE OVERSHADOWED IN HISTORY. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO CREATE BUT YOU MADE ME A DRAGON YOU PUT ME IN THE FIRE AND WHEN I STOPPED BURNING I LEARNED HOW TO GLOW DON’T THINK YOU CAN STOP ME YOU CAN’T TAME A TORNADO."
simple with ourselves
or with the lovers we have had.
we have grown up with anger
tucked under our sleeves.
we were always told
to shift the masks a little,
make them fit us better until
our faces start to grow into them.
we have been told to be gentle,
to use words which look soft
when they come out of our mouths.
we have been treated like deserts
and loved like buildings on fire, but
we were always a storm wrapped
around the hull of a sinking ship,
something no flames could touch.
we are learning to be undone,
to wipe off our fingerprints
when we leave each other’s rooms.
if we were uncomplicated
we wouldn’t be ourselves."
was some insignificant boy
when it should have been
my problem is my mamma raised me far too nice
to ever wish death on somebody, regardless of how much
they’d harmed me so instead i’m compiling a list
of odd karmatic punishments
for the assholes of my existence like
i hope the girl who ruined my senior year of high school
by bullying the hope out of my bones
has a bad hair day on every first date. i hope
the words she said behind my back tangle around
her head so when people meet her for the first time
they can see how unkind
she really is.
my mother and my father were talking in public
and a policeman asked her if she wanted the
‘dirty hispanic’ to leave her alone
and i really hope that policeman goes home
to heat that never works properly and that
the cold makes his bones ache, i hope the
warmth of my daddy’s sun never kisses
the sweaty temples of men who use their
position of power as an excuse to be racist
the man who hit me until i bled from the
corners of my mouth and who kissed me no matter
how much i asked him to stop better constantly get
his dick stuck in his zipper and i hope a large rash
develops because of it because maybe being
in constant pain will make him learn
i want the teacher who told my friend joe
‘you can’t be a boy just because you say so’
to spill overheated 99-cent coffee on her ironed skirt
every other thursday, i hope it stains because
her words never washed out of his ears either
i hope the boy who broke my heart is
doing well, because i’m doing well too, but i want
the boy who broke my sister by promising forever
when he really meant ‘just until you give me everything’
to get a tattoo with a misspelling
just because i think it would be funny
since he was so afraid of commitment
the man who told my friend to kill herself, just get it over
should wake up to a leak in his roof
that has no particular origin and constantly drips
onto his face no matter where he moves his pillow to
because maybe then he’ll have some idea about
i hope the people who told my brother
he couldn’t succeed
solely based on his disability
constantly hit their heads when getting into the car,
i want them to blink back little black dots
and wonder what they’ve ever done wrong to deserve
this and then i want them to see my brother’s company
on a full-page spread because he’s twenty-four and
making more money than they ever did
my math teacher told me most girls are stupid
with numbers and i hope his wife is funneling large
sums of his money into an offshore account without
him noticing while my english teacher told me
he didn’t expect much because i’m not a native speaker
so i really hope in class one day
he unknowingly passes out one of my poems
and i hope if you’ve been hurt, your life has
turned around. keep your head up,
square your shoulders, trust that
the universe will find some way to sort things out. hold on
until your heart mends. regardless of what happens,
know that happiness
is the best revenge.
that extra twenty minutes
to text you back,
and I’m never gonna play
hard to get
when I know your life
has been hard enough already.
When we all know everyone’s life
has been hard enough already
it’s hard to watch
the game we make of love,
like everyone’s playing checkers
with their scars,
whenever they get out
without a broken heart.
Just to be clear
I don’t want to get out
without a broken heart.
I intend to leave this life
there’s gonna have to be
a thousand separate heavens
for all of my flying parts."
1. Spit it into her voice-mail, a little slurred and sounding like the shot whiskey you downed for courage. Feel as ashamed as you do walking into work in last night’s clothes. Wake up cringing for days, waiting for her to mention it.
2. Sigh it into her mouth, wedged in between teeth and tongues. Don’t even let your lips move when you say it, ever so lightly, into the air. Maybe it was just an exhalation of ecstasy.
3. Buy her flowers. Buy her chocolate. Buy her a teddy bear, because that’s what every romantic comedy has taught you. Take her out to a nice restaurant where neither of you feel comfortable and spend the whole night clearing your throat and tugging at your tie. Feel like your actions are more suited to a proposal than the simple confession of something you’ve always known.
4. Whisper it into her hair in the middle of the night, after you’ve counted the space between her breaths and are certain she’s asleep. Shut your eyes quickly when she shifts toward you in askance. Maybe you were just sleep whispering.
5. Blurt it out in the middle of an impromptu dance party in the kitchen, as clumsy as your two left feet. When time seems to freeze, hastily tack on “in that shirt” or “when you make your award-winning meatballs” or, if you are feeling particularly brave, “when we do this.” Resume dancing and pretend you don’t feel her eyes on you the rest of the night.
6. Write her a letter in which the amount of circumnavigating and angst could rival Mr. Darcy’s. Debate where to leave it all day – on her pillow? In her coat pocket? Throw it away in frustration, conveniently leaving it face up in the trashcan, her name scrawled on the front in your sloppy handwriting. Let her wonder if you meant it.
7. Wait until something terrible has happened and you can’t not tell her anymore. Wait until she almost gets hit by a car crossing Wabash against the light and after you are done cursing at the shit-for-brains cab drivers in this city, realize you are actually just terrified of living without her. Tell her with your hands shaking.
8. Say it deliberately, your tongue a springboard for every syllable. Over coffee, brushing your teeth side-by-side, as you turn off the light to go to sleep – it doesn’t matter where. Do not adorn it with extra words like “I think” or “I might.” Do not sigh heavily as if admitting it were a burden instead of the most joyous thing you’ve ever done. Look her in the eyes and pray, heart thumping wildly, that she will turn to you and say, “I love you too.”"
My brother killed himself
on the twenty-eighth Thursday of last year
and I missed four days of work
and my mom wanted to know ‘Why’.
he was always a fan of beauty
but what he did
was not beautiful at all.
And last week I got the news
that one of my good friends from high school
except this time
she’d gone too far
and now she was gone.
And I had a hard time falling asleep at night
and her mother
hugged me tight
and thanked me for coming to the service
but I did not
want to be there at all.
This is not
The girl down the street
would’ve turned 21 last year
and I can scarcely imagine
the wild times she would’ve
But she is buried six feet deep
after falling nearly 300
and she did not leave a note.
This is not
My freshman year of college
and my roommate was beautiful
and how I wanted to be just like her.
But she wore herself down
till she was
and if you blinked
you had to go and find her all over again.
So now her parents are no longer supporting her college tuition
but are paying her hospital bills
watching their daughter crumble.
This is not
So y’all can take your narcissistic
of self harm and eating disorders and committing suicide
and shove them as far up your ass
as you possibly can.
Starvation is not beautiful.
Killing yourself is not beautiful.
is not beautiful.
This note I am writing
is not beautiful.
you are beautiful
and it’s about damn time you start believing it.
and your hair is messy.
You haphazardly put on your jeans and shirt
as you moan about the day of the week -
and I love you.
and you’re stumbling your way around the room,
trying to sort out the things you have to do.
You stop to briefly kiss the freckles on my nose,
asking me about my day -
and I love you.
and you’re quietly sprawled on the couch.
You pat the spot next to you and pepper kisses on my hair
because it’s my least favorite day of the week (and you know it) -
and I love you.
and you’re wondering what the weekend will bring,
but you’re still moaning about how
the week is going by too slow for your tastes -
and I love you.
and I’m surrounded by DVDs and snacks
you’ve prepared when I was gone.
You welcome me with blankets and warmth from your arms -
and I love you.
and you’re feeling lazy.
You won’t let me leave your arms
(or is it the other way around?)
So you tuck me under your chin as we both wonder
how much time we have left
before sleep makes us miss each other’s faces -
and I love you.
and there’s nothing much to say but
I love you.