I feel pretty, oh so pretty, …
…this song from West Side Story (Sondheim, 1957) enters my head when I sit down to write.
When I was 7…
…I did not feel that way. Not because I did not know I was pretty, and charming, and stunning, entrancing, and gay (that is another story).
Hard to feel pretty when you are 7 and someone – not your parents – is always touching you.
And, why should I have had to think about that anyway?
Was it not enough that Maria, who cares for me, in whose body I reside, was it not enough that instead of learning how to jump double dutch after school at PS#12 that she was trying to not be the odd one out in Simon Says or Musical Chairs?
She knew that I knew if she lost the game, that the bigger kids, adult ones and almost adult ones, would make her go into the pink room with the naked swinging bulb. She always lost.
Hard to feel anything not pain. Or anger. Like fires that spread through your body in places you didn’t know existed. Or knew could be opened that way.
Maria always said no. I said no. No body listened. But our body listened. Closed tight that all attempted forced entries into me failed. But, the body has many parts. To touch. To rub against. To see. To pull. To lick. To suck. To push into. To tear.
7. No words to speak the unfathomable. Maria tried. But, adults always want why. Who understood what she meant when she whispered one day: I don’t like it here. I don’t want to come back, and could not provide a reason. Besides, immigrant parents do not come to America to dream that their child will be hurt this way.
We cried. We bled. And burned. Finally, we stopped the pain. That, too, is another story. You are not ready for this story. As much as you think you want to know, trust me. It requires courage that a 7-year-old should never need.
But now, some 50 (or so) years later…
Pain made me a poet. Poetry saved my life. My life is a poem that demands details. Details require memory.
they put inside me. And,
I am grateful
when they filled my mouth with parts of themselves
when they covered up my mouth
I did not swallow my tongue.
A poem on my tongue is a machete that roots out silence. Are you listening?
I am your ancestor’s mouth, the one who kisses you free so you can live.
I am not pretty. Pretty is such a common, simple word. I am many things but not that.
I am a perfect luscious fuchsia rose framed and covered in soft Black velvet.
I was 15 the first time I saw myself. The morning was sunny and warm. I was awestruck.
It is easy for the inside of the universe to mesmerize you, to promise and deliver pleasure.
And, oh, I am so very fond of pleasure, especially my own.