from “The Deceitful Palimpsest”
Well, as you say, we live for small horizons:
We move in crowds, we flow and talk together,
Seeing so many eyes and hands and faces,
So many mouths, and all with secret meanings,—
Yet know so little of them; only seeing
The small bright circle of our consciousness,
Beyond which lies the dark. Some few we know—
Or think we know. Once, on a sun-bright morning,
I walked in a certain hallway, trying to find
A certain door: I found one, tried it, opened,
And there in a spacious chamber, brightly lighted„
A hundred men played music, loudly, swiftly,
While one tall woman sent her voice above them
In powerful incantation… Closing then the door
I heard it die behind me, fade to whisper,—
And walked in a quiet hallway as before.
Just such a glimpse, as through that opened door,
Is all we know of those we call our friends.
I sat on the floor and read those lines over and over again. I wanted to be that woman, with a voice strong enough to rise above the sound of a hundred instruments. More than that, though, I wanted to be able to do what Aiken had done, conjure her and the experience of seeing her so powerfully that it would take someone’s breath away.
I don’t remember how much more of Aiken’s work I read back then, but I do remember—because the literary editor of my ninth grade yearbook chose to publish it—the first poem I wrote that truly meant anything to me:
Alone, always alone,
Staring always staring,
Out of a window,
Never leaving it.
Yes, always remembering,
What it was like,
When you were young,
Alone, always alone.
Writing poems like that did not simply help me find a voice; it proved to me, in its physical existence on the page and in the fact that it moved my friends when I showed it to them, that I had one. By the time I discovered feminism in the 1980s and began to understand myself as a survivor of sexual violence, poetry had become the primary vehicle through which I was speaking the truth of who I was, and so poetry became for me what it remains to this day, a way of exploring how surviving sexual violence—how living with the values that informed the sexual violation I survived—has informed the way I choose to live my life.
I publicly broke my silence about being a survivor of childhood sexual violence in my first book of poems, The Silence of Men, which was published in 2006 by CavanKerry Press. The animating question at the heart of that volume remains the central question that motivates me as a writer, What does it mean for me to commit myself as man never to stand on the same side of anything as the men who violated me? My own healing, in other words, is not the primary focus of my work, though there are certainly moments of healing in my poems and writing many of them has been personally healing for me. Rather, I am concerned with exploring what it feels like to hold myself accountable—personally, politically, culturally, and socially—in how l live my life as a survivor.