The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Wednesday


Coat
By Peg Boyers


At eleven I learned to lie.
Disobedience and its partner,
deception, became my constant companions.

How enormous then that first transgression,
against Father's command, a sin damning as Adam's:
walking to school alone.

We all lied, mother explained,
it was...necessario.
How else to survive

Father's rages,
his sweeping interdicts
and condemning opinions?

Oh sweet allegiance of lies:
siblings and mother bound
together in a cozy tie!

My brothers' lies
were manly,
obdurate, built to last.

Mother's were infirm little things,
infected from birth by her obstinate grace,
fated to die as soon as they hit the air.

But this lie, the lie about me, was sturdy,
knit, as it was, from the fiber of maternal love
and a wife's defiance.

Go ahead; it's right.
Walk alone. Grow up.

Each assurance a coercion, each coercion a shame.

The lie was a coat of mail
I'd don each day, threading my arms
through its leaden sleeves,

pulling its weight over my head,
steeling myself
for my father's wrath.

In it I was strong and getting stronger,
but tired, always tired.
Oh to rest, shuck the lie and confess!

Father forgive me, I knew not what I did!
At night I'd rehearse the lines
and pray for his cleansing fury.

In the morning I'd meet him in the hall,
already crabby in his gray lab coat,
barking his harsh observations

about my robe (pink: ridiculous)
about my face (vacant)
about my voice (inaudible).

Mother, how did we produce such an insect!

I was used to this.

Exasperated, he would stuff his red frizz into a beret,
hurl himself into his loden cape
and bolt out the gate--too rushed for truths.

Silenced again, I would resume my solitary mission,
lugging my books, wearing my lie to school
and back again, through the maze of city streets.

One day the mist briefly lifted and I saw
the winter sun pulsing silver and pale
through a hole in the sky--a quiet disk

hopeful as the moon.
A face emerged, white whiskers smiling,
familiar, professorial--an angel perhaps,

or a friend of the family--
here to guide me safely
across the river to school.

He took my bag and my arm,
allaying my fears with talk
calculated to soothe, flatter, amuse.

Gentile, cosí gentile.
Ever faithful, he met me at my gate
morning after sweet morning.

We chatted carelessly the whole way,
intimate as lovers,
never a snag

or worry to hold us up--
I, grateful and happy,
he gently leading the way.

My trust deepened daily with his purpose
and burrowed
in the snug darkness of short days

where the new lie took root.
From deep in the loam, the probing
stem pushed to the surface.

Meanwhile, the first lie grew light with practice.
And my coat assumed
the comfort of a uniform.

His purpose, obscured from the start by fear,
suppressed tenaciously
by innocence--canny innocence--

flared up in a question,
betraying an ignorance
both clear and obscene:

"Little Girl, would you touch me--here?"

Suddenly my hand, sweetly warming
in his flannel pocket, was pushed
to the hard, oozing center.

My hand recoiled.
But the ooze stuck.
In that minute my childhood ended.

I ran home as fast as my legs would carry me
to hide my shame in the place
where secrets were made and kept,

willful little liar, disobedient
sinner trying to find my way alone
through fog, through lies.

My life was filling up with secrets
and deceit's secretions,
loneliness and melancholy.

I hugged my coat tight against my body
so that the lies and I were one.

--------

Even if you aren't here for the poetry, you might want to read the poem today. It's relevant to this morning's rant.

I had things to say about the sixty-odd old messages that got delivered by LJ yesterday, and things to say about The Reckoning and Hornblower: Mutiny, both of which I watched and greatly enjoyed last night. But I will reduce them to the former having superb acting and cinematography and interesting questions about faith and justice though the plot had some gaping flaws, and the latter giving me the wonderful Bush but only five minutes of Pellew and what a tense story and oh damn a cliffhanger, because I spent all morning trying to figure out how to say what's below, which is sure to offend the hell out of people but if I can't say what I'm thinking in my journal instead of being a lemming then what's the point of having a journal in the first place...

I am not doing the sexual violence meme. I'm not afraid or ashamed to talk about anything that's happened to me; I am absurdly afraid and ashamed, though, at the way everything gets turned into a meme of equal spammish importance whether it's about personal tragedy, inner faith or whether Legolas looks better in green or brown. I got about forty "no silence"s and about twenty baaaaabyanimals community pimps yesterday off my default friends list, and that's shaming the fuck out of me.

I'm curious: are people really gaining the strength and confidence to speak up and face the past from a bunch of relative strangers posting an AA catchphrase? Will someone tell me if you really had a moment of powerful comfort or revelation while reading someone else's use of the meme? Or are there other people like me who are instead feeling disempowered and trivialized by it?

You know what's hardest for me to deal with -- the number of people who feel compelled to post that they have been blessed not to be victims, but want to do the meme anyway because they feel they should express blanket support for those who have been. WTF do you mean, "no pity"? I'm hearing pretty much only pity, not, "I'm feeling compelled to volunteer my time at a women's shelter or a hotline or a hospital or a political campaign to do something about this, because when this many people are speaking out about it, it's obviously an even bigger problem than I'd feared." Is it very wrong of me to want people to show support not by chiming in on a meme, but by actually thinking about what they can do in their communities and countries about this problem rather than sounding like half our politicians with the "Yes, it's a great tragedy, and now on to the next thing we have to talk about like books and baseball and movies oh my"?

I don't think the issue here is helping people to know that there's solidarity among other people all over the world whom we'll never meet in person, when it comes to this vast problem that has been inflicted upon so very many of us. We already knew that. We see it on the news every night, in the paper every morning, and we hear it from our RL friends in hushed tones, way too often. The issue now is whether we can say, to our families and friends and school and work associates: this happened to me, more recently than you know, possibly at the hands of someone else you know personally, and I need to speak out about it right now, to you and the proper authorities, and get the help I deserve -- not as one of the nearly-anonymous statistics but as someone determined to influence those who pass laws and elect judges and will actively work to make sure it doesn't happen to others. That's the road to change, not memes.

Am having lunch with perkypaduan, then have lots of work to do. Hope everyone is having a lovely morning...
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