October 19, 2017: After Me, Too
In the aftermath of the current sexual harassment and abuse scandal — I say current because there always seems to be a new one, doesn’t there? — I, like many other women, posted #metoo on social media and found myself overwhelmed by memory and its complex, attendant emotions. I began to write my way through, then realized I already had, three years ago, when the second edition of my first full-length poetry collection, Difficult Weather, came out and I decided to add a poem that I’d kept out of the first edition. Here is the new text included in that second edition — the poem itself, as well as the thinking behind my decision to withhold and then include it.
Note on A Story
When I was putting this, my first full-length poetry collection, together, I had suggested a few poems that my publisher and editor, Derrick Hsu, wisely felt were not quite in harmony with the tones, themes, and voices of the whole. But I had one poem in my files that I had already decided not to include, an 85-line narrative in five-line stanzas called “A Story.”
The story it tells is of a rape and its aftermath. The language is deliberately plain, the stanzas of a uniform length, in order to keep the content unembellished. It is a story about different ways of telling the same story, about how content surfaces and shifts as a story is told over and over again. Finally, the retelling becomes an agent of healing. But that takes time and luck and the right people – things this story is also about.
When I first began to read this poem in public, I found that no matter what other poems of mine I read along with it, “A Story” was the focus of audience reaction and after-reading talk. I was heartened that people were moved by it, but worried that it might overshadow the rest of my work. And the questions that people would ask me after they’d heard the poem, often very personal questions about its autobiographical sources, were frequently painful to answer. So when I was putting the manuscript of Difficult Weather together, I left it out.
I’m including it now because I believe that “A Story” is part of the larger story of this book, that it illuminates and complements other themes that run throughout Difficult Weather. As my body of work grows, I see that this was in many ways a turning-point poem for me, especially with regard to its content. And I am quite comfortable now with letting it out into the world, to bump up against similar stories and, perhaps, provide a little hope.
–Rose Solari, 2014
You remember waiting in your friend’s boyfriend’s house
where she was supposed to meet you both for lunch
and she was late – which wasn’t unusual – so you
drank a glass of wine and then another. No more
than two. The rest comes back in bits and flashes
as though there were layers of white net thrown up
between you and what was done to you for the rest
of the afternoon. Later you realized you’d been drugged.
What you have are memories of yourself, your back
on a tree stump in some park – and still you don’t know
how you got there – and him on top of you and the bark
pressing into your spine, or a thin recollection
of standing naked in water that rose to the bones
of your ankles. Maybe there was a creek. Maybe
you screamed and no one heard you. At home
that night you know you argued with your lover, though not
about what. He said your bizarre behavior frightened him.
You slept. The next day, you threw up all morning, you found
small, unaccountable bruises dotting your thighs
and a fist-sized purple blotch at the base
of your spine. Over the next few days, more pictures
accumulated in your mind, you began to reconstruct
the events that occurred on Friday, when you went
to your friend’s boyfriend’s house to meet them
for lunch. On Monday you told your closest female friend
that you’d been raped. She believed you right away,
which helped you find the courage to tell your lover,
who didn’t at first, but thought you’d gotten drunk,
fucked someone else, and concocted this sad story
out of guilt and a need to confess. You were glad
to have bruises, then; they’re what convinced him.
But telling the story twice exhausted you
and you knew you hadn’t the strength to go through it
once more for strangers in uniform. After a month
you knew you weren’t pregnant. Then there were other things
on your mind – you got a new job, you and your lover
broke up, your mother went into the hospital – and you
were proud of yourself, getting over it all on your own.
But one morning you woke from a dream
of your friend’s boyfriend’s face in your bath,
in your closet, hovering over your body and laughing,
and this dream repeated itself, with different details,
almost every night for a week. You felt you were losing
control of your mind. So you called a number you heard
on the radio for a clinic that dealt with counseling
victims of rape. A woman’s voice asked for your story.
You said you’d rather go through this in person.
She said that to select the proper counselor for your needs
she had to know the specifics first. And so
you told her. It took twenty minutes and when
you finished you were sobbing and sweat ran
from the hand on the phone down over your wrist.
She asked for your name and address and when
you recited them, she said she was very sorry but
you lived in the wrong county for their clinic
and they couldn’t help you. She began to list
the numbers of places that could but you hung up.
You hadn’t had a chance to say what hurt you most,
which wasn’t the bruises or how sick the drug made you
or even that you knew him, called him a friend,
but that sex itself had become devalued currency
in your hands, and that of all the various ways
in which your innocence had gradually been destroyed –
family dramas, drink, betrayals, experiments with drugs –
this was the worst because you’d taken no part in it,
yet you were changed. You decided to keep quiet.
Six months went by. One night you were sitting
on your living room floor, a young man on your left,
beers in your hands. You hadn’t known him long
but you liked him. He was able to make you laugh.
You talked and listened to record after record
until the deep blue-black of the sky was touched
with pink. He got up to leave and, reaching down,
pulled you to your feet for a good-bye hug that rocked you
against him. Something about the size of his hands
or the gentle scrape of his beard against your face
made you stiffen. You cried and surprised him
by not being able to stop. He asked what was wrong.
You felt as if you were reaching very far back
for the words, for the pictures, as if he’d asked you
to tell the plot of a movie you’d seen when you were a kid.
You thought that it would be safer to make something up.
Instead you held onto his hands and began with the day
that you’d gone to your friend’s boyfriend’s house
intending to meet them both for lunch.