Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that

it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

"Poem about My Rights" by June Jordan


There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond
the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in
love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advan-
tage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys
have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in front will want to
take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every
shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your
heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The
sun shines down. It’s a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not
choose sides yet.

There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road. Let’s
call them Jeff. And because the first Jeff is in front we’ll consider him
the older, and therefore responsible for lending money and the occa-
sional punch in the shoulder. World-wise, world-weary, and not his
mother’s favorite, this Jeff will always win when it all comes down to
fisticuffs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t always all come down to
fisticuffs. Jeff is thinking about his brother down the winding road be-
hind him. He is thinking that if only he could cut him open and peel him
back and crawl inside this second skin, then he could relive that last mile
again: reborn, wild-eyed, free.

There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond
the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which Jeff you are. It
could have been so beautiful—you scout out the road ahead and I will
watch your back, how it was and how it will be, memory and fantasy—
but each Jeff wants to be the other one. My name is Jeff and I’m tired
of looking at the back of your head. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of
seeing my hand me down clothes. Look, Jeff, I’m telling you, for the
last time, I mean it, etcetera. They are the same and they are not the
same. They are the same and they hate each other for it.

Your name is Jeff and somewhere up ahead of you your brother has
pulled to the side of the road and he is waiting for you with a lug wrench
clutched in his greasy fist. 0 how he loves you, darling boy. 0 how, like
always, he invents the monsters underneath the bed to get you to sleep
next to him, chest to chest or chest to back, the covers drawn around
you in an act of faith against the night. When he throws the wrench into
the air it will catch the light as it spins toward you. Look—it looks like
a star. You had expected something else, anything else, but the wrench
never reaches you. It hangs in the air like that, spinning in the air like
that. It’s beautiful.

Let’s say God in his High Heaven is hungry and has decided to make
himself some tuna fish sandwiches. He’s already finished making two
of them, on sourdough, before he realizes that the fish is bad. What is
he going to do with these sandwiches? They’re already made, but he
doesn’t want to eat them.

Let’s say the Devil is played by two men. We’ll call them Jeff. Dark
hair, green eyes, white teeth, pink tongues—they’re twins. The one on
the left has gone bad in the middle, and the other one on the left is about
to. As they wrestle, you can tell that they have forgotten about God, and
they are very hungry.

You are playing cards with three men named Jeff. Two of the Jeffs seem
somewhat familiar, but the Jeff across from you keeps staring at your
hands, your mouth, and you’re certain that you’ve never seen this Jeff
before. But he’s on your team, and you’re ahead, you’re winning big,
and yet the other Jeffs keep smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow.
They all have perfect teeth: white, square, clean, even. And, for some
reason, the lighting in the room makes their teeth seem closer than they
should be, as if each mouth was a place, a living room with pink carpet
and the window’s open. Come back from the window, Jefferson. Take off
those wet clothes and come over here, by the fire.

You are playing cards with three Jeffs. One is your father, one is your
brother, and the other is your current boyfriend. All of them have seen
you naked and heard you talking in your sleep. Your boyfriend Jeff gets
up to answer the phone. To them he is a mirror, but to you he is a room.
Phone’s for you, Jeff says. Hey! It’s Uncle Jeff, who isn’t really your
uncle, but you can’t talk right now, one of the Jeffs has put his tongue
in your mouth. Please let it be the right one.

Two brothers are fighting by the side of the road. Two motorbikes have
fallen over on the shoulder, leaking oil into the dirt, while the interlocking
brothers grapple and swing. You see them through the backseat
window as you and your parents drive past. You are twelve years old.
You do not have a brother. You have never experienced anything this
ferocious or intentional with another person. Your mother is pretending
that she hasn’t seen anything. Your father is fiddling with the knobs
of the radio. There is an empty space next to you in the backseat of the
station wagon. Make it the shape of everything you need. Now say

You are in an ordinary suburban bedroom with bunk beds, a bookshelf,
two wooden desks and chairs. You are lying on your back, on the top
bunk, very close to the textured ceiling, staring straight at it in fact, and
the room is still dark except for a wedge of powdery light that spills in
from the adjoining bathroom. The bathroom is covered in mint green
tile and someone is in there, singing very softly. Is he singing to you?
For you? Black cherries in chocolate, the ring around the moon, a bee-
tle underneath a glass—you cannot make out all the words, but you’re
sure he knows you’re in there, and he’s singing to you, even though you
don’t know who he is.

You see it as a room, a tabernacle, the dark hotel. You’re in the hallway
again, and you open the door, and if you’re ready you’ll see it, but
maybe one part of your mind decides that the other parts aren’t ready,
and then you don’t remember where you’ve been, and you find yourself
down the hall again, the lights gone dim as the left hand sings the right
hand back to sleep. It’s a puzzle: each piece, each room, each time you
put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, your ear to the
wound that whispers.

You’re in the hallway again. The radio is playing your favorite song.
You’re in the hallway. Open the door again. Open the door.

Suppose for a moment that the heart has two heads, that the heart has
been chained and dunked in a glass booth filled with river water. The
heart is monologing about hesitation and fulfillment while behind the
red brocade the heart is drowning. Can the heart escape? Does love
even care? Snow falls as we dump the booth in the bay.

Suppose for a moment we are crowded around a pier, waiting for something
to ripple the water. We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not
getting dark, we want to say.

Consider the hairpin turn. It is waiting for you like a red door or the
broken leg of a dog. The sun is shining, O how the sun shines down!
Your speedometer and your handgrips and the feel of the road below
you, how it knows you, the black ribbon spread out on the greens be-
tween these lines that suddenly don’t reach to the horizon. It is waiting,
like a broken door, like the red dog that chases its tail and eats your rose-
bushes and then must be forgiven. Who do you love, Jeff? Who do you
love? You were driving toward something and then, well, then you
found yourself driving the other way. The dog is asleep. The road is be-
hind you. O how the sun shines down.

This time everyone has the best intentions. You have cancer. Let’s say
you have cancer. Let’s say you’ve swallowed a bad thing and now it’s
got its hands inside you. This is the essence of love and failure. You see
what I mean but you’re happy anyway, and that’s okay, it’s a love story
after all, a lasting love, a wonderful adventure with lots of action,
where the mirror says mirror and the hand says hand and the front
door never says Sorry Charlie. So the doctor says you need more
stitches and the bruise cream isn’t working. So much for the facts. Let’s
say you’re still completely in the dark but we love you anyway. We
love you. We really do.

After work you go to the grocery store to get some milk and a carton of
cigarettes. Where did you get those bruises? You don’t remember.
Work was boring. You find a jar of bruise cream and a can of stewed
tomatoes. Maybe a salad? Spinach, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and
you can’t decide between the Extra Large or Jumbo black olives. Which
is bigger anyway? Extra Large has a blue label, Jumbo has a purple
label. Both cans cost $1.29. While you’re deciding, the afternoon light
is streaming through the windows behind the bank of checkout coun-
ters. Take the light inside you like a blessing, like a knee in the chest,
holding onto it and not letting it go. Now let it go.

Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere,
he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train
station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind. Or a horse,
your favorite horse now raised up again out of the mud and galloping
galloping always toward you. In your ruined shirt, on the last day, while
the bruise won’t heal, and the stain stays put, the red light streaming in
from everywhere at once. Your broken ribs, the back of your head, your
hand to mouth or hand to now, right now, like you mean it, like it’s split-
ting you in two. Now look at the lights, the lights.

You and your lover are making out in the corner booth of a seedy bar.
The booths are plush and the drinks are cheap and in this dim and
smoky light you can barely tell whose hands are whose. Someone raises
their glass for a toast. Is that the Hand of Judgment or the Hand of
Mercy? The bartender smiles, running a rag across the burnished wood
of the bar. The drink in front of you has already been paid for. Drink it,
the bartender says. It’s yours, you deserve it. It’s already been paid for.
Somebody’s paid for it already. There’s no mistake, he says. It’s your drink,
the one you asked for, just the way you like it. How can you refuse Hands
of fire, hands of air, hands of water, hands of dirt. Someone’s doing all
the talking but no one’s lips move. Consider the hairpin turn.

The motorbikes are neck and neck but where’s the checkered flag we
all expected, waving in the distance, telling you you’re home again,
home? He’s next to you, right next to you in fact, so close, or. . . he isn’t.
Imagine a room. Yes, imagine a room: two chairs facing the window but
nobody moves. Don’t move. Keep staring straight into my eyes. It feels
like you’re not moving, the way when, dancing, the room will suddenly
fall away. You’re dancing: you’re neck and neck or cheek to cheek, he’s
there or he isn’t, the open road. Imagine a room. Imagine you’re danc-
ing. Imagine the room now falling away. Don’t move.

Two brothers: one of them wants to take you apart. Two brothers: one
of them wants to put you back together. It’s time to choose sides now.
The stitches or the devouring mouth? You want an alibi? You don’t get
an alibi, you get two brothers. Here are two Jeffs. Pick one. This is how
you make the meaning, you take two things and try to define the space
between them. Jeff or Jeff? Who do you want to be? You just wanted
to play in your own backyard, but you don’t know where your own yard
is, exactly. You just wanted to prove there was one safe place, just one
safe place where you could love him. You have not found that place yet.
You have not made that place yet. You are here. You are here. You’re
still right here.

Here are your names and here is the list and here are the things you left
behind: The mark on the floor from pushing your chair back, your un-
derwear, one half brick of cheese, the kind I don’t like, wrapped up, and
poorly, and abandoned on the second shelf next to the poppyseed dress-
ing, which is also yours. Here’s the champagne on the floor, and here
are your house keys, and here are the curtains that your cat peed on.
And here is your cat, who keeps eating grass and vomiting in the hall-
way. Here is the list with all of your names, Jeff. They’re not the same
name, Jeff. They’re not the same at all.

There are two twins on motorbikes but they are not on motorbikes,
they’re in a garden where the flowers are as big as thumbs. Imagine you
are in a field of daisies. What are you doing in a field of daisies? Get up!
Let’s say you’re not in the field anymore. Let’s say they’re not brothers
anymore. That’s right, they’re not brothers, they’re just one guy, and
he knows you, and he’s talking to you, but you’re in pain and you can-
not understand him. What are you still doing in this field? Get out of
the field! You should be in the hotel room! You should, at least, be try-
ing to get back into the hotel room. Ah! Now the field is empty.

Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don’t make a noise,
don’t leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will
come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a
graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights
on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to
dream about. We used to dream about them. We used to do a lot of
things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the
bread and devour it. I’m in the hallway again, I’m in the hallway. The
radio’s playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I’ll
keep walking toward the sound of your voice.

Someone had a party while you were sleeping but you weren’t really
sleeping, you were sick, and parts of you were burning, and you
couldn’t move. Perhaps the party was in your honor. You can’t remem-
ber. It seems the phone was ringing in the dream you were having but
there’s no proof. A dish in the sink that might be yours, some clothes on
the floor that might belong to someone else. When was the last time you
found yourself looking out of this window. Hey! This is a beautiful
window! This is a beautiful view! 1 hose trees lined up like that, and the
way the stars are spinning over them like that, spinning in the air like
that, like wrenches.

Let’s say that God is the space between two men and the Devil is the
space between two men. Here: I’ll be all of them-Jeff and Jeff and Jeff
and Jeff are standing on the shoulder of the highway, four motorbikes
knocked over, two wrenches spinning in the ordinary air. Two of these
Jeffs are windows, and two of these Jeffs are doors, and all of these Jeffs
are trying to tell you something. Come closer. We’ll whisper it in your
ear. It’s like seeing your face in a bowl of soup, cream of potato, and the
eyes shining back like spoons. If we wanted to tell you everything, we
would leave more footprints in the snow or kiss you harder. One thing.
Come closer. Listen . . .

You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves
you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terr-
ible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself
a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to
choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you
don’t even have a name for.

"You Are Jeff" by Richard Siken