It’s been a rough day on social media. I cried watching so many friends disclose or pointedly refuse to disclose sexual violence of all kinds. Either way, you’re all amazing and brave. I believe you. And I support your right to not share anything you don’t want to. I cried trying to figure if I wanted to say anything, and what, and whether I wanted to be doing that on facebook, and whether my experiences counted, and how it’s not okay that people should feel pressured to talk about their trauma for other people’s education, and how for so many people this is compounded by racialized violence (and other intersections of oppression) in ways I’ll never experience.
In an interesting collision of worlds, I came across the poem below while working on an application. It’s one of a series about swimming, written using words transcribed from garbage pulled out of a swimming hole. I was writing fancy grant-lingo things about how my poems about swimming aren’t entirely unconnected to the other more difficult themes in my manuscript (head injury, chronic illness, abuse, etc.), partly because they’re a record of something I do to stay okay when I’m going through or writing about difficult topics. But sometimes the two threads meet explicitly.
It had been a long time since I’d read this poem, and I was surprised to find it comforted me. Which shouldn’t be surprising. But it was.
This one is for the part of me that still needed to know it wasn’t my fault (and sometimes still does). Maybe it’s for you, too, if you want it to be. Take good care of yourselves, dear people.
[Note: A Mikvah is a Jewish ritual bath.]
Middle Pool, Where We Submerge Three Times Like the Mikvah
Let’s go to the water and get clean.
That slow cold current,
just before it all falls into the sea.
There. Let’s tip forward
and go under.
First time for the body: that chill,
that simple sport of returning
to the skin.
Again for the mind.
You who decided to let yourself
be curious—let’s bypass thinking.
Let’s quit the facts for a while.
Let’s risk our leading brand sunlight,
our pasteurized chances of having it all,
to tip, to turn, to twist open
One more time
for that which is wild in each of us,
the simple particles of being,
removed from the packaging
of thirst and hope.
After, you are clean as dishes.
Your skin sparkling cold.
Inside, what could be
a small window opening. No,
less than that. Light comes in
as if through a straw.
And what is this?
This small I’m sorry
in one palm and it
was not you
in the other.
Say it to yourself. Say it
to your face, your throat—
I’m sorry—say it where it hurts.
Say it for your gentle hands
when you did not know
to be a fighter. For all the things
you could not say. Or,
calculating costs, did not.
Allez go! Get it in your eyes,
in your hair, on your all-possible skin.
Know this, breathe it, if only for these wet seconds.
Go under and under and under, return
again and again and again. Break the seal
on the brilliant verb of your body.