Margaret Price


We are told of four assaults this fall.
He is blond, they say, and strong - six feet,
six two. He likes to do it by the pond,
where photogenic swans delight
the visitors until the first hard freeze.
Rhododendrons tangle by the paths
down there, fat leaves overlap like feathers:
shrubs just dense enough to hide two bodies.
He likes to do it weekday afternoons;
he likes a sunny Tuesday around one.

How close did students pass you, changing classes?
How quiet did you have to be for him?
When he'd run away, how long before
your mud-cold fingers gripped your jeans hard
enough to snap them up? How long before
your voice returned? How many steps to safety?
When you clawed your way back through the shrubs,
the eye-level sticking twigs, the fractal
branches - staggered back onto the path -
did we look at you as if you were a creature?

Now we walk in pairs or packs. We glower
at the middle distance, hands in pockets;
we carry pepper spray and purse-size screamers.
We don't know your face. Your name. Or how
to tell you that we know. Me too, half
the campus whispers; I've been in those shrubs
myself. That car. That cubicle. That living room.

The swans refuse to meet our eyes.
Together in the afternoons we watch
the early setting of the fruitless sun.

* * *

For JD

Early on, I issued warnings,
catalogued what sticks to me.

Gravel specks indent my back,
my knees. Crushed feathers cling
to remnant blots of tar. Dark
patches—mud, or oil, or shit—
map my thighs and neck irregularly.

There's no need to mark myself
with ink or paint. It's been done.

How to tell you: I have coins
stuck in my gullet, ancient nails
embedded just above my elbow,
string tangled in my hair. The bones
around my eyes are cracked like fans.

Don't expect to view this palimpsest.
My smile blinds for a reason. But

at times you seem to feel the grit
shifting in its corporeal beds
under your fingers. I've noticed you
don't try to brush it off. At times
I think your hands can witness me.

Margaret Price is an assistant professor of writing at Spelman College. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ms., Creative Nonfiction, Breath & Shadow, and Bitch. She is at work on a book about psychosocial disability and academic discourse.