An Electronic Journal of Poetry & Poetics
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ISSN 1081-3500 | Copyright © Mudlark 1996
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Mudlark No. 2 (1996)
The Rape Poems
by Frances Driscoll
- Wild Ribbons
- Common Expression
- Ray's Sentence
- First Recital
- Multiple Choice
- Incomplete Examination
- Difficult Word
- Some Lucky Girls
- Spotting Ray
- Parochial Air
- Entertaining Ray
- Vocabulary Words
- Outrageous Behavior
- Island of the Raped Women
This region gives the national wire cheap filler. Even
our insects are of interest on slow days. A topless
car wash. A topless doughnut shop. Segregated
high school proms. We like different music, contented
students say. The serial diaper thief still at large.
A fetish, my son is sure, but I am not so certain.
There is a problem with the roof. Whether this is
related to climate, I have no idea but most things here
are. Destruction by water, salt. Eating silver,
art, delicate fabric seems a priority. My son
is happy today. A girl with legs and serious potential
has given him her number. He has gone almost a week
without spilling butterscotch in large quantities
at the fast food stand. On the beach he reads lines
to me from the magazine that came in the mail. Happily
explaining everything. This is all surrealism. This
is good. This is bad. The introduction to a collection
of seafood recipes moves my sister to tears. I lose
their drift. The twice-convicted diaper thief released
this time for lack of evidence still on my mind.
And another story. One from home. White tulips
wrapped in pink tissue placed at the warm spring scene.
Children gone wild in perfectly pleasant weather. A
young woman, near a pond, near fallen sycamores, nearly
all her blood gone. She had been running in the park
at that hour. That hour is not specified. There is
no need. That hour is a bad hour. To be in the park.
To be at home. To be. There is no good hour. But
this is a pleasant afternoon and that kind of thinking
doesn't really sound very American. I foresee instead
a march down streets with the usual noise, signs.
Take Back the Night. As though time is the matter.
And place. Dark time. Dark streets. Whose interests
do such beliefs serve. But perhaps it is better
we march, better we continue to fail this quiz. Where
does it usually happen. a) home b) street. When
does it usually happen. a) day b) night. Delusion
is necessary for mental health, claims the article
my mother sends. I have lived this way all my life,
my still married mother writes in the margin with
exclamation points. The wife of our new vice-president
has chosen her project. Preparedness for disaster.
There are many tracks open to women today in America.
In Israel a witness testifies: It was then we found
women and children burn that easily. Somewhere
I think I read this still breathing and therefore
in all good taste still nameless young woman
was on a fast track. I hope so. I truly do hope so.
Very fast. Very bright. I can see her. Flying
home. Wild bare arms breaking bright ribbons free.
The man above me is saying something. He is
saying something over and over the same
thing. What. What are you saying, I am
saying but he is still saying what
he was saying using the sound of it to take him
where he wants to go and someplace inside me
closes and I feel nothing but know only this
cheap chosen comfort has taken a sudden twist
straight toward the worst. And all this is now
is waiting for it please to stop. Escape turned
reenactment out of nothing but one
word of language. But I don't know
that yet. I don't know that
until morning when I remember when
I heard that word before come
over and over out of a man's mouth
like that just like that.
In the afternoon sounds I can not place
keep coming out of me.
I remember not knowing
what would happen
when he stopped. Life
or death was all I thought was
I do this all the time, he said.
I ruin everything. I ruin everything.
I go to my room. I take off
the dress. I hang up the dress at the end
of the closet. I don't know what I do
with the bra. I think I take it off. I'm
pretty sure I took it off. I don't know
when I collect the other things from the living
room floor. I know the shoes stayed
where they were for a while because I remember
one day they surprised me. I saw them
and I thought what are my shoes doing out
here and then I remembered and I put them
away. As though preparing for weather,
although this is Florida where they haven't
had any in years but natives say it's time
again for a tropical storm to ransack this coast
with voices betraying memories oblivious to lack
of running water and light, I put on white cotton
underpants, hand-me-down jeans of my son's, one
of his oxford cloth shirts diluted navy and white
vertical stripes, his navy cotton crew neck
sweater that swallows me, my own white cotton
socks and canvas sneakers. When my son says
he always knows where to look for his clothes,
I tell him I don't know how they get in here.
Laundry just goes astray on you sometimes. But
he is young and doesn't understand that yet. I
go with the dog into my son's room where he is
not sleeping because he is sleeping in his cousin's
room in my sister's house. I get on the floor
with the phone book. Somehow it opens to a page
that lists Rape Crisis Hotline in bold type.
I dial. The woman who answers tells me she isn't
Rape Crisis anymore. She's another hotline.
She gives me another number. I dial. A recording
tells me Rape Crisis Hotline has a new number. I
dial. The new number has been disconnected.
I call the police. I say I don't want to report
anything or anything like that but I was just
wondering if you might happen to have a number
for something like a rape hotline. The man gets
off the phone. There is talk in the background.
He gets back on the line. He gives me a number.
It is the number in the phone book. I look
at the clock. Everywhere in America it is still
the middle of the night. I dial Wisconsin
where my best friend since sixth grade in suburban
Connecticut and Miss Donna's ballet class lives now
a time zone away. Julie says, Hello. I say, Rape.
Julie says, What. I say, Rape. Julie says, What.
I spell it. Oh, Julie says, rape. No one says
anything. For the real life sound of her, I
ask about the weather. We talk then of winter
in Beloit and how she is wearing her hair now.
Still a blunt cut but a little shorter in the back.
Julie won't let me go until I promise to leave
the house, go to my sister's. While promising
I know I am able to go nowhere and it is nowhere
Ray says he is
a) vacationing from Virginia.
b) from Louisiana.
c) newly transferred by the Navy from California.
The policewoman says
d) none of the above.
The policewoman says
Until I say, no, no more, the physician specifically
trained for such occasions, examines me naked late
the next afternoon, inch by careful inch, slowly
touching me slowly everywhere slowly. You are
ovulating, he says. He has pills for that, among
other things. He remarks upon raw skin, bruises. Keeps
finding bruise after bruise. I can not connect bruises
with what happened and I can not talk anymore. Old,
I say, fall down. I can not talk anymore. I have
already talked with the center director, the
policewoman, the center director, the psychologist,
the center director. I can not talk anymore.
Could I describe the rape for him, he says. Minor, I say.
Sodomy, Kate says, sodomy. That's such a difficult word.
But it is such an easier word to say than to say
what he said, what he said could happen, what did happen.
And Kate, this is so difficult to say it takes me
years to begin to try to say this part of the story.
How after inhuman time, the erection begins to leave him. How
I pretend not to notice. Until now, I have been trying only
not to move. If I want to avoid anal sex,
I have been instructed not to move. This is when he is
slamming himself into me. I am even more afraid now. I am
so afraid now, Kate. I am so afraid. I believe if he believes
I don't know maybe he will not kill me. Now he is using his hands
to shove himself into me. This part seems to last
a long time. And now he is off me. He is
stretched out, propped on one elbow. He looks perfectly
comfortable, Kate. He looks like everything is normal here, Kate.
Kate, he is going to kill me, Kate. He gestures down,
You're going to have to, he says. You're going
to have to. He sounds so sad saying this. Like
if it were up to him, he wouldn't be saying this. He's crazy,
Kate. He's really really crazy. And this will not
work. He has not been a boy for a long time and he has had me
down on the floor for a long time. This will not work.
And when this does not work, he will kill me. I know this.
I run. I run very very fast, Kate. But really Kate, I am not
running. And really I am not even crawling. Really I am trying
to slither myself along the way you sometimes in TV movies
see soldiers under fire move. And really Kate,
it is only inches that I do move. Like used dishwater,
there is nothing left of me now. I am going to die, Katie.
And he leans only slightly, uses only one arm to draw me to him.
You're going to have to, he says, and his palm pushes my head
Some Lucky Girls
We were so lucky to get them. Nobody else
appreciates them. Least of all the professionals who
see this as symptom, wait for anger. But almost
everybody in group agrees. And if some weeks later some
of us stumble around saying I wish he'd killed me
well, that's just a phase most of us live through
and nobody's paying any attention anyway except
the professionals who offer really good pastel
drugs for both day and night. Of course Louise
I guess basically she always just wanted
to see hers neon flat dead but bleed bad first but
I don't think she ever was really objective of course
there was the matter of that vaginal tear and
he did make her take that supervised bath afterward
but he was so supportive, so sympathetic when
she was getting all upset in the beginning as he
watched her strip standing in her bedroom doorway
he tried to help her through. Rape is never easy, he
said. Caroline and I were crazy about our guys
from the moment they left. My rapist was so nice,
Caroline says. He wanted so very much to please
me. What do you like, he said. I mean, he held a
knife to my throat but he was so gentle. And, my
rapist, he was wonderful. Well, look at me. No
visible scars. He let me live. He let me keep on
The day I spot Ray lounging in the doorway of Harry's
boarded-up pawn shop, my therapist leaves town for
a death in the family. I drive by Harry's every day
on the way to work through that sorry stretch of
downtown. Around Harry's lately I nurse swallowing
a washed-out and bitter orange pill, whose bottle says
as needed for anxiety. It's a taste I've acquired.
Harry's been up for sale for a while now, but I've
never seen Ray by there before. Ray was looking
pretty good in battle fatigues. The beard all still
there he said he planned to shave. Why, I said, it's
a good beard. Keep it. Wondering could I ever
positively identify him without it. I look back, long
as I dare, knowing I need to keep my eyes' custody on
the road. But I want to roll my window down and wave,
Hey. I want eye contact when I say, Who have you
buried, Ray. Instead, I remember skipping the cemetery
to go directly from Mass to my grandmother's house,
charged by my sister with care of her cobalt enameled
casserole, along with warming her sweet marinated
chicken hors d'oeuvres, famous at family funeral
parties. Trouble lighting the gas oven loses me
some eyebrow, singes edges of my hair. I lose my
sister's directions in the mirror above the bathroom
sink, convincing myself everyone will be too distraught
and who in the family has enough sight left anyway
to notice. If caught, I'll say I got carried away
with plucking. But even skirting the get-together's edge
I can't miss what my sister has to say about her
scorched enamel. Daddy's first cousin, Helen, whose hair
remembers waving passion bright, doesn't let me slip
past. How are you, Honey, she says. Fine, thank you,
Helen, I say, And you. Helen takes me by the shoulders,
looks me in the eye. No, Honey, she says. Your grandfather
you loved, who loved you, is dead. Honey, you are not
fine. In the doorway of the room where he left his body
in his own bed, in his own sleep, we lean into one
another, looking out into the kitchen. When it was
linoleumed red, he stood singing there. For me.
Even I like this. Yes. With
my hands. My hands my sisters eye
what is held expecting
This form so unlike
speech in this no longer comfortable
feels natural as braiding
young family hair.
Form belonging only
to ourselves. Requiring no explanation.
Because it happened here I begin with
what is here. Palm. And because
of what happened to my own palm.
Palm and branches of available roses.
Painted paper. Paper painted
by my sister with the small floral pattern
of the discarded dress. Purple, white, green,
blue. The last dress she helped me find.
The one even I felt feminine inside. I
hardly ever wear one any more. Barbara
the repetition of a few safe clothes. Always
loose. Never ironed. Announces
she is going to do what I do. Wear
just anything she wants. I am reminded:
Want has had little
to do with my recent life. Nothing
to do with my wardrobe. I wear
what I can. Clothes as symptom not
statement. I do not complete
the oval. Leave the slope of shape
open. Or, unfinished.
But this is not just
another broken object in the house.
Remembrance does not basket up neatly.
I assumed weaving might guide me somewhere
I believed I believed if I made this basket if
I held the rape in my hands.
I suppose I hoped to feel
tears. Not expecting
just the usual
bloodshed. Cut up hands.
Unwise choice of material.
I study my palms
the broken life line the line that split
marked proof death of the raped woman is
no fantasy. The body knows more than the world.
This fading line remains.
There is an unburied woman in this house.
A body is denying a woman a marked grave.
The life line sometimes splits, it says
in Elementary Palmistry, when there is
a move to another country.
I love you, Donald says. I love you,
Barbara says. I say
nothing. Want only
to get away.
I don't know the woman
they talk about and they never met
the woman I can almost on a good day remember
I am reminded:
A woman deserves a grave. The body needs
to cry. The palm conceals nothing.
The rapist who does not kill is the real
Prescription drugs do well here. Normal
balance seems easily disturbed.
Karen's neck is bothering her again and
I am suffering in this city which,
for all its humidity, has never had
a major Star Trek convention with
inflammation the physician's assistant
found by hand. The things we pay to have
done to us while perfectly good dresses
hang on sale racks. I don't need
inflammation explained. What is there
to do with evidence but burn it. We all
know the temperature of sin. And so
these blue pills are for vaginitis and
oval with patience these help me sleep
when I let them. Also they keep the
dreams from me leaving me with only
this steaming local air to contend with
in the dark. Things form in this climate,
my therapist explains, unknown further
north. Calm talk of fungus follows. He
means to suggest I suppose this condition
I am carrying on so about in extreme
language may have nothing to do with the
man who first dropped to his knees.
Sniffed at me like an animal or a man
gone mad. I just want to smell it, he said,
but he lied.
Inventing Ray, I fail over and over.
Nothing sounds right. Or true. Except
hunger. Terrible hunger. Even in
the womb I see him, mute mouth moving,
wanting. In the middle of his time
inside me, he held himself perfectly
still and did not look down, but rather
stared straight ahead at blank dimly
lit wall. His face remaining, the way
I see his face always, a face without
expression. Providing no clue to what
he dreams at such times. Do you bowl,
he said. I said, No. I said, No.
I see him now alone at night in the alley.
The forced fall of pins. Line after
line invariably neat and polite as nuns
wearing convent posture. The involuntary
sound they make going down. Ray is
wearing what he always wears. Ray's
clothes do what no one else wants to do.
Hold him. Hold him close and keep
on holding. His narrow body loosens
only in moving away. I leave him there
leaving. As he turns, something haunts
in the way his shoulders shift, sloping
toward an exit. This mask Ray wears
he was not born with. Some things
the womb refuses home.
The woman is ovulating. On the floor, she knows this. She
has never seen beneath the microscope the shapes of ferns
cervical secretions assume only at this time. But
she imagines them. Male ferns, you know, are common
as mud. She imagines only uncommon ferns.
Maiden's hair. Venus hair. Heart's tongue.
Cinammon. Slender cliff. Madeline. Madeline.
Jennifer Anne. Ovulating, the woman dreams
a story. In that first garden, where they slept
they slept among ferns in weather we call
spring and ferns were the meal she prepared
for them the day she first conceived and the first music
in the garden was the sound humming its way out of her
during the conceiving, conjuring crystal spiral
unfurling. On the floor, the woman has forgotten
her story, her possible daughters. She has not forgotten
she is ovulating. The man is stopping
touching her now. The man tells the woman on the floor
she has to do something for him now. But first,
he offers to do something else for her. No. Threatens
to do. There were no offers that night. When the man
knocked the woman to the floor her mouth dried. This
is what desert, death mean now to her. This night, this man
is what terror means now to her. Time will expand
this definition to night and men. She is learning
real meanings of common words, here, this night,
on the floor. On the floor, she will beg this night
for water. Years later, talking alone in a closed room
with a man her mouth will dry. She will not ask a man again
for water. The woman on the floor believes she has a choice
of what to lose. Does what he has been wanting
her to do. She kisses him to keep his mouth
away from her. She will continue to kiss him to keep
sure of his mouth's whereabouts. She knows, reaching
for his mouth, she is losing this. The woman
on the floor is kissing the man who has her
down on the floor. She feels nothing. She
feels nothing so when she sees him coming
out of her and she has felt nothing, known
nothing, she goes a little maybe you'd say crazy.
The woman on the floor is making noise and the woman
is ovulating. On the floor, she knows this.
She begs the man. She will not stop. She will not stop.
She does not beg him to stop. She knows now he will
not stop until he stops. She knows when he stops he will
kill her but maybe he will not kill her maybe
she will still be alive when he stops and she is
ovulating. She begs him to let her put in her
diaphragm. During this time, he has been moving
her, slamming parts of her into what does not
move--wall, furniture, door--pushing her
along the carpet the way you push
hard on a rag wiping a bad kitchen
and each time the man starts to raise himself above the woman
to do what a man does above a woman
the woman has been trying to move underneath him,
all scatter and confusion in the darkness
like some blind little animal
trying to maybe scramble herself maybe somehow away and
trying to avoid him and she does not know if she is
avoiding him because she feels nothing
and the man is pressing down on her so hard
so hard scraping her into place to keep her
still. The man is not confused. The man is not pleased.
The man is not pleased with the woman's behavior. He
lets her know that. He lets her know that. He lets her
know her behavior will have to improve. The man tells
the woman he does not want to hurt her. He
tells her what he does not want to have to do to her,
what he does not want to have to make her do. He
reminds the woman of what he was willing to do
for her, is still willing to do. He would do that, he says,
for her. The woman on the floor can not improve
her behavior but she promises. She promises and the man
decides to allow her the diaphragm. He stands. He looks
down at her. He looks down at her. He tells her she can
get up. He asks if she wants him to help her get up.
She says no. She says she can get up. These words
do not really come out of her mouth. What
comes out of her is only a slur of sound
but the man understands this language. She
gets up. She is standing. She falls to the floor.
A little heap. He offers to help her up. She says
no. She says she can get up by herself. She
tries. She tries to get up. She is almost now
what you could almost call almost standing. She falls again.
The man says nothing. He picks her up. He holds her
standing against him. Holding her, holding
her arms, he half-carries her into the bathroom her hand
gestures him toward. She scans surfaces, opens cabinets.
She can not find the diaphragm. She finds the diaphragm. He
asks if he can help. She says no. He says he wants
to help. She says no. He contents himself with holding
her dress up around her waist. She gets
the diaphragm in. It is over now. She knows this.
He must know now what he has been doing. It is over now.
She knows this. He will leave. The man pushes her back
into the living room. The man tells her she has to get back
down on the floor now. The woman can not believe
this is happening. She believes this is happening.
She believes he still must not know what he is doing.
At the same time she believes he does not know
what he is doing she believes he knows
what he is doing and she believes he will kill her. There
is a word for this simultaneous belief in incongruous
notions. He makes her get down on the floor.
He will keep her, there, on the floor
two more hours. When he leaves he leaves her
alive. When he leaves he leaves her a five dollar bill.
When he leaves he leaves her in such good condition
when people say did he hurt you, she can honestly say,
No. He did not hurt me.
Georgia eggs remain trending unchanged
on mediums; the undertone was steady
at best. Cleveland's donor egg clinic
can not consider a married woman without
her husband's permission. Little done-up
Tammy Faye's reduced to shopping in a
discount outlet store. My therapist is
away again on vacation without me in blue
hill country. A Southside woman last night
fired directly into the abdomen of a still
unidentified man who entered in the usual
way through a window with a knife wanting
to gag, blindfold her using rags. It was
a large caliber gun. He died at 10:30
this morning. Police report no charges
will be filed. Diana appeared in public
in a skintight suit. The color was purple.
The fabric was not disclosed locally. The
first tropical depression of the season
seems in no hurry to move. The heart
of the descending heat pool grows, but lacks
hunger, momentum of its own.
Island of the Raped Women
There are no paved roads here and all of the goats
are well-behaved. Mornings, beneath thatched shelters,
we paint wide-brimmed straw hats. We paint them
inside and outside. We paint very very fast. Five
hats a morning. We paint very very slow. One hat
a week. All of our hats are beautiful and we all look
beautiful in our hats. Afternoons, we take turns:
mapping baby crabs moving in and out of sand, napping,
baking. We make orange and almond cake. This requires
essence and rind. Whipped cream. Imagination.
We make soft orange cream. This requires juice
of five oranges and juice of one lemon. (Sometimes
we substitute lime for the lemon. This is also good.)
An enamel lined pan. Four egg yolks and four ounces
of sugar. This requires careful straining, constant
stirring, gentle whisking. Watching for things not
to boil. Waiting for things to cool. We are good
at this. We pour our soft orange cream into custard
cups. We serve this with sponge cake. Before
dinner, we ruffle pink sand from one another's hair.
This feels wonderful and we pretend to find the results
interesting. We all eat in moderation and there is no
difficulty swallowing. We go to bed early. (Maybe, we
even turn off lights. Maybe, we even sleep naked. Maybe.)
We all sleep through the night. We wake eager from dreams
filled with blue things and designs for hats.
At breakfast, we make a song, chanting our litany
of so much collected blue. We do not talk of going
back to the world. We talk of something else
sweet to try with the oranges: Sponge custard.
Served with thick cream or perhaps with raspberry sauce.
We paint hats. We paint hats.
Frances Driscoll's poems have been in Massachusetts Review,
Negative Capability, Ploughshares, and Willow Springs,
among other places. Gillian Conoley published Island of the Raped
Women in Volt and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. It won
and Bill Henderson included it in Pushcart Prize Anthology XIX (1995).
Wild Ribbons originally appeared in Volt, too, and
Difficult Word in 13th Moon. Black River Press did a
chapbook of Driscoll's poems, Talk To Me, in 1987. She has an M.F.A.
from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; lives in Atlantic Beach,
Florida; and says in a poem called Subsidies: "Sometimes return is
all anyone wants."
Frances Driscoll's book, The Rape Poems, which includes the poems that make up Mudlark No. 2, has just been published by Pleasure Boat Studio, Spring 1997, in a trade paper edition. ISBN 0-9651413-1-4. 88 pages. U.S. $12.95. Lynn Emanuel has this to say about The Rape Poems: "It is impossible to praise this book too much--its power, maturity, sorrow, and fierce resistance. This book should be required reading in America." Cover, copyright page, acknowledgments, table of contents, and substantial excerpts are available from Pleasure Boat Studio. Ordering information is available there too.
William Slaughter, Editor
Department of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645
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