New piece by Connie Woodring.
My very first memory. I was three years old, playing in the sandbox with other kids.
In a flash, a boy hit me in my face with his metal shovel (no plastic in those days.)
It was my first sight of blood, my blood.
I still have the scar on my right eyebrow.
At a very young age I was introduced to the Old Maids card game. The picture of the ugly old white lady who never married scared the bejeesus out of me. I swore I would do everything in my power to not end up like that! It wasn’t until much later in life that I asked whoever was listening, Why isn’t there a card game called “Happy Black Bachelor?”
Even though my grandmother was an atheist, she and other relatives insisted I go to Sunday School and church. I dutifully obeyed and read the Bible from cover to cover the summer of my seventh year. It meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t pronounce all the names with letters of more than eight. However, one thing stuck with me. Eve was the cause of humanity’s downfall and was responsible for making all women suffer in childbirth. Unconsciously, I, being female, determined I was a horrid being and could never redeem myself.
In 5th grade the classroom bully regularly pushed me around into swings and seesaws.
I told me mother. She boldly ordered, “Push him back!”
I did push him, except it was into traffic, and he narrowly escaped severe injury.
However, he never bothered me again.
In 6th grade another class bully (who was always nice to me) got throttled by our teacher.
We horrified classmates listened as he was pushed into iron coat hooks in the cloak room.
He screamed and was smacked.
When he and our teacher came out of the torture chamber, we sat silently staring straight ahead.
No one ever talked about this incident, but we never saw that class bully again.
As a geometry student in high school, I was ordered to leave the room by Mr. B——. “Woodring, you can leave by the door or by the window!” The window was three stories high.
My crime: I couldn’t understand a geometry concept and asked for help. Years later, feminists bemoaned the fact that females are under-represented in math and science fields.
Like the 6th grade classroom experience, all students looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything to me after class.
When I was a psychiatric social worker at a state hospital, I was attacked by a male teenage patient.
I was in a bathroom stall.
I heard the outer door open but no sound.
When I opened the door, this patient lunged at me, putting his hands around my throat.
I always dreamt that if this were ever to happen, I wouldn’t be able to scream.
However, I found my very loud voice, and the boy ran out.
I reported this incident and made a formal complaint, indicating that in my professional opinion such a patient should not have been granted open ward privileges.
The response from the superintendent was, “Are you sure you didn’t provoke the attack?”
My ex-husband stereotypically did not like my mother.
On the last occasion that she visited us he blew a hole in the living room wall with his double-barrel shot gun.
His response, “Oh! I was just cleaning it. I thought it was unloaded.”
My mother and I never spoke of this incident, but I read the fear in her eyes.
He always threatened to kill me if I ever left him.
A year later I divorced him, considering it would be better to be shot by him than to live the rest of my life as a dumbified and mummified wife.
An American white woman friend of mine dated a black man. Her next-door Nazi neighbor who had a portion of Mein Kampf tattooed on his bald head came to her door one day and threatened, “Get rid of your n— or watch him hang from my oak tree!” She obeyed.
On 9/11 a colleague came into my office at the end of a most horrendous day.
She was smiling, and so I asked, “Didn’t you hear about what happened?”
Her answer, “Oh, yes. That’s why I’m so glad! Today is the Rapture when all the sinners will die, and I will be going to heaven—probably tonight!”
Since she wasn’t an Islamic terrorist, I realized I had just had an encounter with a born-again.
At a ripe old age, I died and went to heaven, although I have no idea how that happened. In spite of reading the Bible, I believed in God until I was 19. It was then that I took a sociology of religion course in college and never looked back.
Now I am quite bored as I listen to God’s incessant poetry: “I Blessed America,” “I Work in Mysterious Ways,” “I am a Jealous God and There are No Other gods Before Me.”
I amuse myself diagnosing God: insecure megalomaniac, misogynist, sociopath, Extreme Patriarchitis.
I long for the day when a non-gendered being of some sort will emerge to never want to rule the universe.
Only then will I be able to finally go to sleep.
New poem by Elinor Clark
Oh strange, spiky plant.
Though stunted, you still stretch upwards,
Desperately digging in roots.
But with each growth remember the tub that you’re held in.
Nowhere to go.
Thick, plastic looking skin
Inflicted with some serious malady.
Will scare anyone away.
Put the spikes up.
Pretend that’s what you want.
As a belated tribute to all trans sisters, a poem from Anastasia Walker, appearing in S/tick Issue 2.4: OUTreach.
To 22 year old rapper Evon, suffocated with a plastic bag, choked with a chain, and beaten with wrenches and hammers in Milwaukee on New Year’s Day
To 20 year old Nicole in Brazil, shot to death after the boy she kissed and his companheiros discovered the secret that shouldn’t have to be secret
To 21 year old Dannie, kidnapped and decapitated by an armed gang in Monterrey
To the unnamed but not nameless 22 year old shot in Sarasota the same day
To Ale, 24 years old, in Buenos Aires, killed somehow the day after
To Fernanda, 32, of Viamo, Brazil, shot by two men in a car
To Tiffany of Guyana, sex worker, teenager, throat slit
To Nathalia, 32, stabbed in Quezon City, and her death mocked in the papers
To Cecilia, age not given, shot six times in Fortaleza
To Natalya, treinta, shot twice in Maracaibo, tierra del sol amada
And Jeckson and ?, killed in the same city,
And = =, killed by a car up the coast in Caracas, all on the 19th
To Agata, just a teen, stabbed to death in Camapua the day after my 49th birthday
To Romildo of Recife, stoned to death after 35 years of life
To Alejandra, 28, neglected to death in a Colombian hospital after a fight
To 30 year old Indian Vinod, shot
To 36 year old Karen of Zimatlán de Álvarez, found stabbed and half naked
To 27 year old La Tita of Ciudad Sandino, la Nueva Vida, stabbed in her home by her date
To 18 year old Vitória of Boa Vista, stabbed to death by her boyfriend:
It’s not the sanctioned bigotry, spanning hemispheres and centuries, which these crime scene snaps flesh out
Nor the thought of so much vibrancy so thoughtlessly snuffed out
Nor even the ferocity of your murders – call them atrocities –
That sits like nine hundred pounds of lead and ice in my heart, but the fear
That as the motherfuckers came at you
Punch-drunk and snarling for blood
You might for a second have felt
I deserve this.
This poem draws on the list of murder victims compiled annually for the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) observed across the U.S. and Canada, and in cities around the globe, in mid-November.
A Throwback Thursday piece by Yvonne Jayne, originally published July 2014.
I am shaped by her thought of me,
I am named in her dreams,
Baptized by her vision of me
And born into her likeness.
I am shattered by her disappointments
I cry for her lost life,
I fall in her vacuum and
I flail in her failures.
I am driven by her dreams,
I am powered by her regrets,
She is capsized by the curse
Of her marriage to a madman.
I am rocked by his rages
Storms in the long night,
His genius beats against his bars
I am shattered by his disappointments.
I am unsteady, rising to the sun,
I am called in visions
To express what is sinking,
Back to the core of me again.
I am unheard in my expression
Struggling to have a voice,
I am told to stop being dramatic
And make obedience my choice.
I am shattered by their disappointments
Drowning in their struggles,
Each is the enemy of the other
Storms in the long night.
New poem by Casey Catherine Moore
Is the bottled-up emotions, forced down by Uranus into Gaia’s belly
The tears that leak out after ages of suppression
Our oppression is when the words
Are trapped on the backs of our tongues
And feelings pull forth instead
Like the last bit of honey oozing from the jar
They call us hysterical, a word tied to the darkness of the womb, hystera
But you need no womb to be a woman and to be a woman is to be transcendent
They teach us to be givers, to twist ourselves in different spaces
They tell us we are both Madonnas and whores
They build the gilded cage and ask us to dance
And call us bossy when we make the rules
When Pandora was made from Earth Phobos screamed
And man took heed and tried to shovel her back down
But woman is necessity, Ananke, and because she is darkness she is the only thing who
can chase away Night.
New poem by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
How do I understand
these strange times
when, in discovering
my humanity, I lose
my sense of life? Giving
in to ingenuity, I forget
the nature in which I am
embedded, my body,
spirit, brain, mind,
for the elusive
structures that provide
the concept of self,
define Homo sapiens,
or create the contrast
that forms the other.
I know the same-celled
vermin, even individuals,
who dwell within my home
and how to kill
an infestation, yet think
about half robotic
to carry miniature
microphones to find
our kind in disasters,
search and rescue
there are the rodents
caged in labs, engineered
for research, genetic
codes altered, blueprints
to expand our lifespan.
Have I misunderstood
the cost of kinship?
New poem by Melissa Garcia Criscuolo
from his hole
of a mouth
and his tongue
escapes a fat black
leech at my
neck his lips press
into my cut
under his torso
I do not want
this his words
like a rusty
scalpel and I
out of gauze
New non-fiction by Rachael Ikins
It was all my fault, the nervous breakdown, the tossed salad of diagnoses and medications that followed and left me a confused stumbling mess for ten years. My family made that clear to me by abandoning me to my elderly ailing husband “because he is a doctor,” and of course, he would know why I was so angry and knew what to do about it.
“We didn’t know what to do” was a later refrain. Furious at my behavior, my obesity and my drug-induced allegiance to the therapist who was treating me they raged at me. Rather than band together to reach out to my husband to help, they abandoned me. I was truly alone.
My husband had no idea what to do. He was a surgeon–act and cut–not a psychiatrist. All he knew was that the “treatment plan” was making me sicker and sicker as relatives got drunk at cocktail parties without us. Because some of the medications acted adversely on the parts of my brain that create inhibitions and control, I couldn’t stop spending money. I couldn’t stop eating. I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight, wanting to hit the road with my cat in a carrier running away from…something.
Instead, a new psychiatrist and the original therapist’s retirement resulted in my getting off the stew of drugs. I almost died. What I was left with was a combination of side effects and adverse reactions that the doctor had no experience with. My mind, however, was suddenly clear. I looked around me one day, and I sobbed. Memories long suppressed by chemicals flooded back.
I shambled stubbornly behind the vacuum cleaner to learn to walk again, and waved long chef’s knives around as I relearned to cook. Nutrition and the order of recipes, therapy for a healing brain.
My former sister-in-law said, “I told your brother that therapist is not doing your sister any favors.”
When my mother and I finally reunited, her comment, “Oh, they did you dirty.”
Did me dirty? They almost killed me. I had seizures and heart rhythm disruptions the night of that last dose and was unconscious as my husband lay beside me making a decision not to call an ambulance because, “They would’ve just put you back on all that shit. I knew you would make it.”
Six months later, the one cat I could not live without, the cat I’d wanted to run away with, died unexpectedly. I had insomnia. An hour of sleep a week was about it. She used to sleep with me and without her, the bed was a black hole. My only emotions were rage and grief. Truly I had much to feel that way about.
A year after my cat’s death, because my husband lied every time I asked him, “Are we going to lose our house? Are we going to lose our house?” I found myself alone in his investment counselor’s office where a busy-body assistant bustled out to tell me our money was gone. Her predatory grin and twinkling eyes kept me upright on the couch even though my vision went black for a minute.
When I stumbled to the car, I screamed so loudly my vocal cords were injured. Phillip’s unbelievable solution was to ask my mother for money. Within eight months we sold our house and lost the majority of the contents. We ended up in a small, poorly made camp halfway up the side of a mountain, a forty-five minute drive from where we began married life.
According to my family, all of this was my fault and my husband, the innocent victim. It is not self-pity or unwillingness to own my mistakes that I write this. It suited them to blame me. Only one person apologized years later and with the rest there is no relationship.
It’s a wonder how a thirty-five year old woman who wanted to get pregnant, was instead, drugged and used by a professional who planned to become the second “Sybil’s” shrink, did not die.
My life spiraled into a decade of darkness. At forty-five I “woke up” only to take two of the worst hits since my dad’s death, Nestlé’s loss and the house we were married in over twenty years ago. To be told by those who should have had an ounce of common sense, that I was responsible. Hurt, shame, anger set in. I would have given anything to go back in time, for just one person who said they loved me to have stood up for me.
The new house was surrounded by woods and fields. Since we’d lived in the city not far from the hospital complex when my husband was working, I had not been surrounded by wilderness like that of my childhood family camp for many decades.
It was a hard life. Not quite poor enough for food stamps, but poor enough to run out of food one March, I cut firewood from dead trees for heat. Raided piggy banks to pay for my husband’s heart medicine.
One bitter winter evening, I went to the barn for wood. As I grabbed some logs I thought, “I’m having a nervous breakdown.”
I ran into the trees and fell in the snow. I was so angry. So much had happened, life literally turned upside down, faster than my damaged nervous system could absorb it. I lay in the snow looking up at uncaring stars and thought, “Go ahead. Have your breakdown. Nobody gives a shit. No shrink, no relative. You have lives in the house that need you. So, get it over with and pick up that wood.”
My former therapist had a way of triggering anger in me. Then she’d tell me how awful my anger was. The more she abused me with chemicals and her training, the angrier I became, unable to defend myself, lost in a sea of drug interactions. This moment in the snow, after all that had happened, was the first time I realized: anger is not bad—mine was justified. Anger also is a flame that sustains. I got up and went in to stoke the stove.
The next day our nearest neighbor’s son was going to install a new door for us. I remember how cold the day was. He let me help with the nail gun, but my bare fingers quickly numbed. The next morning he finished which brings me to this moment:
“Lunch is ready.” Phillip’s voice floats from below me. The back door slams behind him. I stare into the horizontal snow pecking at my face. Last night ice dammed on the flat living room roof. A lagoon blossomed as heat leaked through. Water poured in at 10:00 p.m. I am on the roof, hammer in hand to pound the ice.
I’ve been hammering awhile now: my shoulders cramp, right hand aches with lactic acid buildup. Each time the head of the tool connects with the thick ice, pain jolts up into my shoulder, neck and head.
Hot and sweaty despite the weather. A two inch channel is all I’ve created, but enough for water to sluice to the ground. If only it would stop snowing. Phillip worries I will fall.
I imagine my relatives clustered around my casket. Their polite murmurs of, “What a shame it was, she never amounted to anything. That silly poetry stuff.”
I don’t disown my part in our circumstance, but I did not deserve that abuse. My fantasy encourages me to be careful if only for spite.
I move crab-wise across the ice, my half-frozen sweatpants chafe my skin. Only a tee-shirt on top, sopping with sweat and melting snow. I scrub snow out of my eyes with my right fist, hammer stuck to my hand. I roll onto my belly, feel for the ladder with numb feet.
I ease down one rung at a time. My husband puts his arm around me as we head for the back door. I’m glad we’ve just replaced the old one.
The knob won’t turn. Maybe my hand is just weak. No, it is locked.
“Phillip, you have the key?”
He pats his cotton shirt pockets and his jeans.
“No. I forgot.”
My husband has had 3 heart attacks, stents and quadruple bypass. He is slender and frail. It didn’t occur to him to prop the door, that it would automatically lock.
My first thought: 20 degrees out, a northwest wind blasting horizontal snow, have to get him inside. I race to the barn, our car. Locked, too. Keys, cell phone in kitchen.
We can see our breath in the dimness of the barn.
“I’m going to have to go for help.”
“Look inside these boxes, maybe there is an old jacket or something.”
I root through the packing boxes piled there from last September’s move. Paper, pots, no jackets, nothing but a ripped, stained beach towel. He insists I take it.
“Stay in here.” He shivers in his cotton shirtsleeves.
I trudge down the driveway towel around my shoulders. I can barely. I slip and fall, skin my elbows raw. I sob out loud, “FUCK!” drag myself out of the drift as I yank the damp towel on my shoulders. If I am bleeding, I can’t feel it. I hate everyone in this moment.
Should I go up the hill or down? The nearest neighbor lives over a quarter of a mile away. I head uphill into the blizzard. Every third step I slide, my sneakers full of slush. Frozen hair icicles clink against my glasses, lenses so covered I can’t see much. I wonder if I will die of exposure. Fuck that. I have to save Phillip.
I pray no snow plow hurtles out of the squall. No jump to safety; drop-off on one side of the road, a head-high drift on the other.
A surge of anger heats my middle. Really, God?
Just then I think I hear the sound of an engine over the howling wind. I stand still.
Yeah, it is a vehicle. I step out onto where I think the crown of the road is, snow up to my thighs. Behind me, woods. Ahead, state forest.
A dirty white Jeep coalesces from a cloud. Oh. It’s the letter carrier! Shit! She acts like she doesn’t see me. I step right in front of her. I look bizarre, a ghost in a blue and green beach towel. She grinds to a halt.
I lean in a window.
“We’re locked out of our house. My husband has heart disease. He’ ll die. Can you help us?” I point down the road.
She digs her cell phone out of a pile of mail in a box on the passenger floor. My heart leaps. Our eyes meet as she punches 911. Her eyes widen.
“Battery’s dead. I’m so sorry!”
Oh. I drop my head. “Thanks.”
I face the wind. “It’s you or me, fucker.” The storm swallows the sound of her engine in seconds. The wind whistles, tugs away my body heat. Our closest neighbor lives on the left side of the road. Must be halfway.
Bowing my head I pull the towel to shield my face, and slog on. Out of the gloom I make out the shape of a maple tree. Leaves were brilliant red last fall. Roy’s house is close. Wonder if Julie is home. They introduced themselves last October.
I stumble and stagger toward the house like a drunk. Her vehicle is parked in front of the garage. I lift one foot up the porch stairs. My fingers slip off the railing ice. I raise a hand to knock or press the doorbell when the door opens inward, and I fall into the heat of their house with the momentum.
Soon we are bundled in her truck, skidding down the hill to rescue Phillip. She drives us back to her house. Hot coffee and wood stove heat brings roses to his cheeks. Julie phones a friend to see if he can help. His name is John, a retired fire fighter. She lends me parka, boots, hat and gloves for the journey back down the hill. We crunch around the yard’s perimeter. Even the upstairs bedroom windows are locked. We could’ve maybe gotten the ladder from the barn and climbed up there to open one. John doesn’t shame me, simply assesses the situation. It occurs to me that maybe everything is not my fault. Maybe others feel guilt for their behavior. Maybe sometimes shit just happens.
Finally John grabs a screw driver from his truck, pries the storm door out of its track and kicks in the front door, the shreds of my notion of security blasted open by a single blow.
Later hunched over a hot chocolate in front of the fire, my husband safe and bundled up with a book, I feel gratitude for the rage that stoked me and kept my feet hiking up that hill into an unknown. Anger can consume the user, no doubt, but as a tool used with care, like fire, it can save your life.
New poem by Sarah Taylor-Foltz
My thighs saunter in black denim, they nail
Men and beasts alike. Truly, they are quite
A pair, even when naked and pale.
They will not deny or ignore their might.
I love how they look in black skinny jeans
The curve at the top, where thighs turn to ass
The beloved moon. They are strong: these queens
They occupy their birthright of space and mass.
They waltz through this world boldly not giving
A shit about how anyone sees them.
My thighs have energy—they are living!
They’re tough and cheeky—my thighs of mayhem.
Wicked thighs—no domestic convention
Can pen them in or demand their attention.
New poem by Kim Malinowski
I bet Aphrodite didn’t have to shave her armpits,
no, she would go natural.
A goddess doesn’t have to conform
to societal pressures—
she is the pressure, the ideal, the embodiment
of desire and sensualness.
So, when I think of Aphrodite,
I think of her naked self as hairy,
maybe her navel a little linty.
Maybe her hair doesn’t cascade
to her waist and maybe both of her breasts
aren’t plump, maybe one is a little lopsided,
and the other a little red at the base.
She has curves and a belly—after all
she ate all that goddess food.
And her eyes are lightning, daring humans
with her sumptuousness, her dazzling bounty.
She spins and the heavens just drool.
That’s what rain is.
Goddesses don’t shave, they just look damn good
in whatever they wear, and do it with pizazz.