LET THEM NOT SAY
Let them not say: we did not see it.
Let them not say: we did not hear it.
Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke, we witnessed with voices and hands.
Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
Let them say, as they must say something:
A kerosene beauty.
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.
The words should be flying out of my fingers right now. They are seeping out of every pore in my body, quick forming rivulets of moisture, a constant dampness under my arms, heat in my ears, warm flashes of stress in my shoulders, fire in the gut. They have taken up their own conversations in the attic; I busy myself with something, quiet myself with another thing – and still I hear the murmurings up there. I try to sleep but the words prevent me. I toss and turn each night and wake up tired and spent, but the words won’t stop.
You should sit and let them out, I tell myself each day, each evening, each moment after two a.m. that I lay plastered to the sheets, awake and on fire. Let them out and be free of them for at least a moment. Long enough to catch your breath and catch a nap. Long enough to temper the rage that is seeping out as well.
Why do I need to talk about my own personal, private matters to prove myself deserving of bodily autonomy, and thus, my own humanity? Over and over and over again? I want to use the word ‘you’, to lay this on the other. You, you, you. You do not hear me. You are not listening. You refuse to speak up for me. You do not care.
But this poem brings me around to ‘we’, and is correct to do so. I will employ it now.
We saw this coming, we warned of it, and yet we let it happen. Time and time again, we let it happen. Before we called and wrote and begged for someone to stop Kavanaugh, and told our stories of sexual assault. We weren’t enough. Before we chimed in with our stories of harassment and whispered, then shouted Me Too! We weren’t enough. Before we marched in protest and wrote a thousand postcards and called another full voice mailbox of our representatives. We weren’t enough.
Before I tell you that I was born a vessel in constant search of information to fill me, that I once organized a reconnaissance mission in the fifth grade to swipe the ‘S’ encyclopedia for a recess research project I was leading on ‘sex’, only to find out that it read: Sex: see Reproduction, and we had to repeat the mission the following week with ‘R’. Before I tell you that I filled the gaping gaps of abstinence education with secret classes at campus clinics, lengthy book lists, and older, smarter women unafraid to share their truths. Before I tell you I expected the same sort of rigor and knowledge from every relationship that I entered into, and I took for granted that accurate, comprehensive education would be available to everyone.
Before I tell you that I had adverse, life-threatening reactions to a common form of birth control, and I took for granted that my partner and I could walk into an appointment together with a medical professional and figure out a better plan. Before I tell you how many methods I tried – some more ridiculous than others – and I took for granted that I would have access to all the information that I needed to be safe and healthy and happy and whole. Before I tell you how even the best laid plans will fail at some point, the percentages don’t lie, and I took for granted that I could reach out for help and get the prescription and support that I needed to continue my work towards my degree.
Before I tell you that I met someone and I married him and we chose to be parents when we were ready, and that it still nearly cost me my life at my own hands, and I didn’t take it for granted that I could access the mental healthcare that I needed because I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel myself, but my husband could – and he picked up the phone and accessed it for me. Before I tell you that I decided that I could not risk another pregnancy for fear of leaving my daughter, and I took for granted that I could still be my whole self without the fear of another pregnancy hanging over me. Before I tell you that I worked at getting stronger until one day I thought I was ready, and then we were pregnant, and then we weren’t, and I took for granted that the care I received would be compatible to the loss that we felt. Before I tell you that we did try again, and it stuck, and she was born, and the PPD returned with a vengeance, and we took for granted that my doctor would answer her phone and act fast to lead me through to the other side.
Before I tell you that our family is complete, and that I will not, under no condition, give birth to another child in this lifetime, you probably already know that I take it for granted that we can select the best birth control choice for us based on our medical histories and access to comprehensive information on all the options available to us, and if it were to fail, forcing a medical intervention, I will receive the surgical care that I need. Before I tell you that I stayed up late reading the details of the legislation passed in Alabama (similar to that passed in my own state of MO a few days later) and saw all the threads of choice woven through the story of my life unraveling in front of me, I took for granted that my daughters would be afforded the same rights that have allowed me to make the best decisions for my life and the lives of the people I hold the dearest.
I tell you so that you cannot say it was not spoken, not written. We spoke, we witnessed with voices and hands. We just aren’t enough.