Category Archives: poetry

Do I see abuse everywhere?

Contains mild spoilers for The East

Last night, I went to see The East with the BF. The blurb we read online said it was about an operative from a private intelligence firm infiltrating an anarchist ecoterrorist collective, so I was expecting a Jason Bourne-esque spy thriller. There was certainly plenty of that, but there were also weird, sometimes uncomfortable sexual overtones that I wasn’t expecting. Most of it wasn’t explicit, although there was one sex scene and one attempted rape scene.

All of the terrorist attacks the cell carries out are personal to a member of the cell. There is a scene in which Ellen Page’s character confronts her father, who runs a coal power company, at a company benefit. He makes several comments about her being “a woman now, a grown-up” and tells her she’s beautiful. She makes it clear that she hates him with every ounce of her being. She’s confronting him about intentionally polluting the water in the town, causing cancer and deaths of people who can’t afford to move away from the town. She never mentions any other grievances, and she doesn’t seem like she knew or was close to the person who died. To me, her rage at him seems more concrete and specific, personal to him more than his actions.

After the movie, when BF and I were discussing the movie, I made a passing comment about Ellen Page’s character having been sexually abused by her father.

BF gave me a bewildered look. “Where did you get THAT from?”

I tried to explain to him: his comments about her womanhood seemed like veiled references to her sexuality, and her rage seemed too personal to be just about pollution–there are plenty of other worse polluters she could’ve targeted. But he still couldn’t see how I would extrapolate “just from that” that he’d sexually abused her.

To me, it seemed crystal clear. It was like reading “Hills Like White Elephants”: no one ever says the word “abortion,” but it’s obvious the characters are discussing it.

But it made me question myself: am I just seeing abuse everywhere because I can’t come to terms with my own trauma? Is this just one more way it’s poisoning my mind?

I guess it’s possible that the BF wasn’t seeing it because the signs of incest are often subtle, and someone who’s never experienced it easily might miss those signs.

Still, I can’t help feeling flawed and broken, possibly bordering on delusional. Am I seeing abuse where it doesn’t exist because I don’t want to feel alone in my experience. I’m not alone, of course, but incest is by nature isolative. Even if the abusers never threatens more abuse if you tell, you know instinctively to stay silent. No one would believe you, you know. I mean, he’s a police officer. They’d believe him.

Your silence leaves you completely alone, but what you most desperately want–need–is for someone to know and to save you. No one does. You start to believe you deserve to be hurt–what other choice do you have?–and that means it’s your fault no one has rescued you. That learned belief leaves you most alone, much more than the abuse itself. You stop hoping not to be alone–hope is forbidden to you because you deserve all of this.

Fuck.

I feel broken. Irreparable.

“And at the center of the self,
grief I thought I couldn’t survive.”
–Louise Gluck, from “Aubade”

But that at least implies that the grief was survivable, I think, I hope.

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And the fire in earnest

I find I don’t have many words of my own lately. I don’t know if it’s about fear of being found again or something else.

So here are words from somebody else that resonate with me right now.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.
All those who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas….

Now, far from women’s arms
and memory of women, in our father’s hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln–

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.

–Louise Gluck, from All Hallows

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The Wild Iris

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

By Louise Gluck, from The Wild Iris

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