His finger, long and sculpted, curved down her pubic bone, inching closer to the apex of her sex. It finally landed with a flutter, gradually sliding over and around its button, aided by the slippery moisture seeping from her body. His other hand continued to circle her nipples, the friction hardening their flesh as he moved back and forth to stimulate them. Quiet, panting moans seeped from her throat, the volume and intensity slowly increasing as his fingers deftly moved across chest and between her legs.
She leaned back slightly, opening the space between her thighs, taking her right hand into her panties to find his, moving his fingers further down to the wet slit of her vulva, tiptoeing them inside the hot ocean raging inside. She gasped as his fingers filled her, sliding along her inner walls, his flesh sparking waves of pleasure that rippled up through her legs, settling in her abdomen. As his fingers gained speed, her body whipped into a frenzy, a hurricane slowly increasing in power and force.
Her left hand nestled itself into his hair, slowly winding his tresses around her fingers, as her other hand removed itself from between her thighs and reached out to take his chin in her palm, stroking his cheek with tender motions, drawing his face close, finding his lips with her own. He breathed her in, and could taste each her emotions: longing, lust, affection and vulnerability. Her lips quivered slightly, her mouth opening and closing with a rhythm syncopated to his hand, tongues caressing as his fingers pressed forward and back.
She removed her hand from his hair, sliding along his chest, grazing his shirt, resting her fingertips on his tiny nipple bud, massaging, then running them down his belly, feeling slight soft, flesh at the line of his belt. Her lips disentangled from his for a moment, her mouth leaning to his ear, her warm breath falling upon his neck like quiet snow. “Can I stroke you?” she asked breathlessly, and he moved his hand from her nipple to her shoulder, half embracing to bring her close, whispering, “Please.”
Her mouth sought his out again, wanting to inhale every inch of him in every rise and fall of her chest. Her hand began to fumble with his belt buckle, freeing it from its lock, the straps falling open. She carefully took his button between her fingers and released it, continuing downward to his zipper, its teeth making a quiet grating sound as it unfolded.
She walked her fingers into the newly unfastened space, feeling his flesh rise and harden beneath her fingertips, her nails skimming across the fabric housing his member, gradually upping the pressure as his body responded. For a moment, as the fervor of his hand inside her burst into a short dash, she paused, her hand trembling. In response, she gripped him gently, finally sliding his shorts down to extricate him, feeling his muscle reach upward under her tender touch. She wrapped her fingers around him, fondling his flesh with delicate joy. She loved the weight of him in her hand, how her fingers molded around his shape, as if he melted into the crevices of her palm. It felt so natural to touch him, like his skin always belonged inside her own, as if the heat rising from the back and forth of her hand was like the sun creeping across the landscape, igniting it with golden fire.
As his hand moved inside her, her hand caressed him, developing a syncopated rhythm. Her body weeped onto his fingers, and she felt him become rigid beneath her touch, but with fleshy give, as if she were carving him from soapstone with her hand. His belly lit on fire from her contact, feeling erratic notes escape his throat and mouth as he gasped with pleasure. He sought her eyes with his own, and she returned the glance, almost trance-like, swept away by the pleasure rippling through her body. He thought he could melt into her eyes in that moment, disappearing entirely into mist, every inch of his body fusing into her own, wanting nothing more than to feel every wave of what she was experiencing, every pulse of pleasure radiating from his hand. He settled for drawing her close, foreheads touching, their breath mingling between them in hot, invisible clouds, finally drawing his eyes closed as his lips pressed her own, feeling his own existence fall away as she returned the advance, feeling his body dissolve into her mouth cell by cell by cell.
you believe in
moving in circles,
landing gently and
barely a whisper
trace of your
i believe in
like a stain glass
by a mid-July
i project kaleidoscopes
upon blank surfaces in
your butter soft hands
enveloping my fingers,
encircling my soul
you are the shelter
beneath my skin,
leaving silent scars
no one else
the safe haven
where you pull back
and i push forward,
dead center of
maybe for you too much
maybe for me not enough
but its all about
the bridge between
in the gloaming,
when a hush
falls the earth
and invisible creatures stir,
my heart whispers
how it feels
like a Glasswing butterfly
perched in your hand,
flapping its wings against
the silk of your furrowed skin,
tenderness spreading across
gossamer and tendril,
in your heart line
you enclosed it with
a velvet fist,
its pinions beating against
its lust for living
by the capture
your satin palm splays
in graceful humility,
risking any love
by giving it room
In the wake of the explosion of #MeToo, I find myself more and more reflective and aware of not just my experiences of assault and harassment, but how more conscious of it I am becoming when it is presented in my life. For instance, this past weekend, I was asked by a friend to come with her, and her group of companions, to a nightclub to dance. I reluctantly said yes. It’s a place where I’ve never really felt comfortable, which I have found rare in my small city. But I allowed myself to be cajoled, and off we went to Skylight, where drinks are poured into plastic cups and music was pumping into the street.
From the second we entered, I knew I wasn’t going to stay long. I had been to a performance by John Waters earlier in the evening, and was sporting fishnets, a fitting skirt, and a tank top with the words “Nerdy, Dirty, Inked, and Curvy” down the front. I don’t really give a shit what people think about how I dress, because I will wear what makes me feel comfortable and happy until the day I die. But I don’t like when people (i.e. men) use it to objectify and assume. I had a bunch of eyes on me from the moment we entered.
Aside from the main dance floor where men formed a ring around those moving in the middle, a balcony runs along its edges, with more men gawking from above, because evidently that circle of eager men surrounding the dance floor was just not enough testosterone. I hit the dance floor with the group, but didn’t feel at home, and felt myself holding back in my movements, like hearing a small whisper in ear that says, “don’t be too sexy, you know what will come of it.”
My friend and I made some offhanded jokes about how ‘rapey’ it felt, but it wasn’t funny that places can have that sensibility. I felt like a fish in barrel encircled by guns. As I was dancing, one guy approached me with exaggerated swagger and asked me if what was on my shirt was what I was looking for in man. I turned to him coldly and replied, “Not really, because I’m not looking at all,” before dancing myself away to another section.
A couple of other men shimmied in my direction, and I intentionally glided over toward my friend to avoid having to say ‘no’ over and over. Clearly this was not the type of place where I could just be myself and cut loose. It began to feel overwhelming, the glances and intensity, and my anxiety kept climbing, so I hugged my friend and told her I was leaving. I grabbed my coat and was out the door in a flash.
The level of discomfort was palpable in every cell, and it took me walking around a bit in the cool night air to feel my flight or fight hormones begin to subside. It is a strange world to live in where something as pleasurable as dancing can feel like a situation of life or death, because our bodies sometimes know what we do not: that even people who are ‘decent’ on the daily, when infused with alcohol and lust, become other creatures all together.
I can’t acknowledge this fully without coming to terms with the fact that I, myself, have been that aggressive person under the influence. It’s the hardest part for me reflecting on #MeToo, knowing how much I have endured in the realm of assault and harassment, yet having full awareness that I once hurt someone in a similar way that I still regret enormously.
When I was in college 20 years ago, I think I was a junior, in the heyday of my party years, I was cast in a scene with another theater major, “John”, whom I didn’t know very well, for a student directing class. We were a small department, which I loved, because some of class sizes topped out at four people. But it also meant all hands-on deck for projects and productions. Outside of academics, I had a very small, core group of friends from different majors, but I also spent time with a very diverse group socially: I wrote for the hockey team, I was part of several organizations on campus, I was in a coed, academic fraternity and went to Greek parties, etc. The theater department was more insular, and most of the theater majors hung out together very frequently. I was, as I have been most of my life, an anomaly, because I’ve never had the desire to be pigeonholed and fit into a nice, round hole. Because I didn’t solely hang out with my fellow thespians, some people were always on the periphery, such as John.
The scene we were cast in was romantic, and we were to kiss in it. As soon as I read it, I felt enormous anxiety about the performance, and it began to dominate my thoughts. I had never done such a scene before, and I didn’t know how to process it. I was just beginning to unravel the sexual abuse from my childhood, and was drinking a lot in the process to not drown in that sorrow. The idea of publicly being intimate with someone I didn’t know, nor was attracted to physically, began to weigh on me heavily, and still being a young adult in college learning how to navigate on my own, I didn’t really know where to go with my discomfort.
One night shortly thereafter, in our local Chinese restaurant watering hole, I ran into John and two other theater friends who I was better acquainted with, and sat with them. I had been drinking steadily, and was feeling quite tipsy. Eventually the discussion veered around to our scene, and we began discussing the kiss. I asked John if he was nervous, and then I began, out of my anxious thoughts and feelings, to pressure him to kiss me on the spot, ‘to get it over with’. He politely shied away. My own perturbation grew and grew with his backing from me. I continued to push, and then, out of my own discomfort, leaned in and kissed him without consent, because my uneasiness was too much for me to bear, my clouded mind not considering his comfort or feeling. Shortly after, he left, and the incident was a hazy memory come the next morning.
The following Monday, I was asked to talk to two of my professors, who gently sat me down and told me that John had come to them because he felt violated, as he should have. I gave my account, which mirrored his, and openly admitted to what I had done. I never intended harm, but I realized in that moment how quickly our own desires can replace the consideration of, and for, others. Our scene was axed as a project for the student director, the consequences of my actions rippling further, and I felt horrible. I consider myself very fortunate that graver repercussions were not handed out.
I still feel incredible shame and guilt about the fact that I made another human being feel physically uncomfortable, as I did in that club, especially since it is something I have grappled with internally for most of my own life as a victim at various points. But despite intention, I did what I did, and I own it, because it has served as a catalyst for my own growth and reflection, and it is one of the main reasons consent has become an essential part of my interaction with others.
Despite apologizing (and John-I am still deeply sorry for any hurt), I can’t erase the past, nor the pain I created, but I will always hope for forgiveness. Maybe it will come one day, maybe not. The discomfort forever serves a moral compass. But I also can’t wave the banner of #MeToo without stating that I have, in my life, been such an aggressor.
I carry the promise that in the aftermath of #MeToo’s tsunami, that men can not only look inward, reflect, and recognize the moments where they have contributed to devaluing women, but publicly come clean about the moments when they have faltered, without defensiveness or resistance. It is not enough for so many women to merely say we have endured these collective experiences. We need your atonement, and we need to know how you plan to change for the better in concrete action steps. Maybe you will be forgiven, maybe you will not. But we’re all savvy enough to know that’s not the point. By saying things out loud or publicly, we evoke accountability.
For myself, it has meant some hard soul searching about the person I wanted to become, and evolving into someone who is sensitive and conscious to the physical and emotional needs of others. It also means raising my children to understand that actions have definitive consequences, and that respect for self only starts when you respect others with the utmost regard for their comfort and safety.
It’s not just about the big issues such as rape and abuse, but about the small moments we let slide that give permissiveness to those larger moments, and learning to tackle them one resistance at a time. It’s about learning to say ‘no’ to friends and family who use other men to give themselves permission to exploit women, or to validate their own exertion of power. It’s about the jokes, the comments, and being willing to change the objectification of women by realizing that they are not yours for the taking. Perhaps, if we can initiate this honest conversation not only within and amongst ourselves as a society, but particularly among men themselves, we can start to retool what masculinity means, and recognize its capacity for abuse and hurt. Maybe feminism will seem less like an oppressive word, but more like an aspiration. Then, maybe instead of #MeToo, we can begin to collectively move forward and finally demand, altogether, #NotOneMore.
Made a comment. Or two. Maybe three. Was it four? I lost count.
Called me sweetie, darling, dear, a hot piece of ass, a bitch, a cunt.
Defended your friend, you know, the ‘good’ guy?
Yeah, he raped me.
He also raped my friend.
And two other women.
Rubbed my neck, stroked my arm, touched my leg, smacked my ass.
Tried to grind with me.
Licked my back when dancing.
Made me squeeze past you because you didn’t want to move
knowing I would have to rub my body on your own.
Said a joke.
But it wasn’t funny.
Paid for sex.
Read those magazines, you know, the ones
with the good ‘stories’.
Approached me when I didn’t ask you to.
I ignored you.
You kept talking.
You still wouldn’t leave.
So I had to leave.
Let your eyes slip below my chin during conversation,
over and over and over and over and over and over.
Called to me when I passed you on the street.
Followed me while I was walking.
Followed me home.
Forced your way in.
Forced your way inside me.
Left me to pick up the pieces.
I love to walk home alone late at night if I’ve been out dancing, or socializing. I enjoy the silence, and time to reflect. I think about my writing, my life, my goals, what I want and how to get there. I tune into nature: crickets, cicadas, birds. I count stars, identify constellations, and like the solitary feeling of being independent. My home is only about a twenty minute walk from our downtown area, so it’s more than manageable, especially when trying to catch an Uber or Lyft seems near impossible. When the moon is full, I enjoy bathing in her rays and catching glimpses of the shadows she casts from the trees and homes I pass on my journey.
I went out dancing the other night, and found myself walking home late as usual. After a bit, I could hear footsteps behind me, on the opposite side of the street, but really thought nothing of it. Sometimes, other people feel the same urge as me to travel on foot. As I continued, the steps became louder, and echoed a faster rhythm. When I was almost at the intersection of a larger road and less than five minutes from home, I heard those footsteps begin to clap closer, crossing the street between us, and I looked back to see a man who began to yell to capture my attention, “Hey, hey!”
In general, I am not frightened by much. I grew up in a city where I learned to be street smart, and frankly, was blessed by some unseen force looking over me at times that delivered me from precarious situations that could have ended badly. But something in this guy’s tone just hit me in my gut, and I felt myself get instantly defensive. I started walking faster, and his steps increased as well. He began a light jog, and I could not outpace him, finally coming to the road where I had to rely on a street sign to cross. He sidled up near me and said, “Hey, can I walk with you?” in a very slurred, alcohol induced pattern. I turned to him, square in the eye, and forcefully said, “NO.” He backed away slowly, a little stunned, it seemed, by the force of my words, then finally crossed back to his side of the road.
He and I walked in a parallel direction for the next few moments in silence, my hands shaking slightly in my jacket. I felt relieved that it only took one word to move him along, but I hated that I had to deal with it in the first place.
Reflecting on this the next day, I realized that I felt a depth of sadness at the fact that I have been conditioned to fear men so quickly and easily. That seeing a man on the street at night, when I am alone and vulnerable, issues a deep-seated alarm that I shouldn’t trust him, instantly. I thought about all the times I have spoken to my older daughter about ways to avoid placing herself in uncertain situations, and counted how many of them involved how to keep men at a distance. Pretty much all of them.
And then I felt a huge wave of anger that I even feel this in the first place, that our culture allows for women to be accountable for the actions of others at every turn. If things had ended differently, had some form of assault been attempted, how many would have whispered, “Well, you know, she was walking home ALONE, and it was very late,” or “She should have known better and waited for an Uber.”
NO. I should be allowed to walk wherever the fuck I want to and not have to feel that my body and spirit could come under attack from someone who feels the need to exert their own power by denigrating others. By men who feel that the only way to get what they think they need is to take it from others at a weaker moment.
I don’t want to live in a world where I feel it’s necessary to teach my daughters that men can’t be trusted. I know so many wonderful men who defy that stereotype, and who understand how to treat women with respect and admiration. I have a son who respects women immensely, and I hate the fact that there are girls, such as my own, being taught to fear him. But for each of those, there is a ratio of more men who just don’t seem to fucking get it.
Men, you have to help us out. Talk to other men. Have some conversations. Explain why certain behavior toward women isn’t acceptable. Explain why women deserve better, and how they better themselves by respecting us. For all I know, that guy that approached me was genuinely concerned that I was walking alone, and just wanted to help. But until we live in a culture where men hold women in the esteem they deserve, I’ll just have to continue to assume the worst, and teach my daughters the same. And that’s not okay.
For the fists that ravaged your bones
splintering your reflection
from the inside out,
leaving your spirit torn
into jagged rags of grief
For the watercolor, stormy inkstains
that followed the beatings, the pinching,
the moments when you dared say
something wrong, out of tone,
For the moments when you said no
but he forced himself next to you,
on top of you, inside you,
under your flawless, glowing skin where no
amount of cleansing can ever
restore the shininess of what he stole,
leaving you ragged and dull
For the times you let men touch you
because you were lonely, alone,
or just felt so loathsome
that any burst of connection
was welcome in your sorrow
For the babies
who wanted to flourish
but could not find a way to attach
to the rigidity that crept its way into
your body and metastasized,
leaving your womb an
empty coffin of your
For all the suffering and sorrow
for every harsh, piercing word
that settled in your chest,
fanning out to your lungs
organs, tissue and blood,
reaching deep into your marrow
to whisper that you would
never be good enough
to feel robust again
The memories leaching into
every pore, even
the ones you can’t recall
but that the body recollects
Those ones where there will
never be a pill
inspired by Claudia Love Mair
i can feel my heart gaping wide, stretching in every horizon, pulled thin by its capacity to want to hold in its palm as much love as it can grasp. it is so uncomfortable, this space, the exposure. and just as suddenly, my heart will slam shut, guarding its own, taking stock of what remains so it does not feel depleted. this can be once or several times per day, hour, minutes. it is the constant yearning to know the joy that only comes with the discomfort of laying my emotional self, and all its trappings, bare for the taking, sidled with the consistent fear that it will only burn me to ruins.
there is something that breaks when you love someone who teaches you to distrust your own heart. i can’t shake his voice in my head, the one that time and again makes me feel unworthy of what should be as natural as breathing. i watch other people and wonder how they manage to trust themselves, and the compass of their emotions, because mine always feels broken. i can never tell if affection is given out of obligation or admiration, or withheld out of spite or fear. i never know if what i imagine i feel is requited, because to know that would indicate that i have known love that was given without a price. the cost has always been my confidence, and a way of navigating the world of affection with security that i’m not sure i’ll ever taste.
i want so much to feel the grace that comes from letting down my guard fall to the ground so that i can let another touch my soul in its most tender places. i long to not agonize, my mind spinning in circles, analyzing every word, touch, or exchange. it makes me feel fragmented, the constant thoughts and doubts that rise to the surface gasping for air, convinced that they know we are destined for destruction. and so i lock up the gates, securing my heart in tight, so that if nothing else, i know it will survive another day, even if it does so alone.
i had thought the worst was behind me, that the scars from the emotional turmoil i survived would evaporate into dust, blowing into oblivion, freeing me from feeling like a stranger to my own sentiments. instead, left behind is the unceasing critic, the one that whispers how undeserving i am, simply because i was so naïve to trust and love another who made me question how i could allow myself to be treated as if i were inconsequential as a human. it’s an endless commentary that only serves to force me to doubt if i will ever be worthy to know the sweet bliss of affection that comes without the cost of feeling as if i am less than deserving, as if at any moment i will reach inside my chest and discover my heart was never there all along.
Deep in the thicket of the forest, the dancer stood on the moist, sweet earth, waiting for the moon to rise. She was barefoot, white tights running down her lanky legs, her corn yellow hair flowing down her back in waves. Down her torso, she was draped in a silver leotard, with a loose organza skirt tied around her waist. She stood in first position, patiently waiting for the moon to reach above the mountain’s horizon.
Slowly, the moon began to crawl above the tree line, and the dancer, beginning with a leap, gave herself in rhythm to the moon. For hours, she professed her love with her body, arms long, legs lifted, curved and rolled in circles. Finally, when her muscles could sustain her no more, she fell to the forest floor and inhaled the savory dampness of the moss, rotten stumps and dying leaves. She looked up, hoping the moon’s gentle light would be upon her, but the moon had drifted above the horizon, slowly meandering away toward morning.
For weeks, the dancer came every night. Even if the moon sat hidden behind clumps of backlit clouds, or if rain pounded down and snuck its way beneath the fabric of her costume, she danced until exhaustion came and overtook her body, until she felt she might break.
One night, after dancing what she was convinced was her very best routine, the girl sat on the forest bed breathing with force. Overwhelmed by the moon’s ambivalence and her endless effort to display her love, her tears began to soak the ground. She lay chest down with her cheek against the soil, and let the watery frustration of her heart pour from her eyes. From somewhere deep and distant, she heard a soft voice:
“My dear child, what ails you so?” asked Mother Earth.
“My heart has been torn to bits. Every night I come to dance my love for the moon, and every night the moon continues to rise without even a glance my way. She does not love me,” replied the dancer.
“How much do you love the moon?”
“Oh, I would give anything to bask in her light and know her affection. Can you help me?” The girl pleaded with Mother Earth.
“Stand up, dear heart,” Mother Earth directed. After dancer pushed her tired muscles to a stand, Mother Earth asked “What is your name?”
“Aspen,” the dancer replied quietly.
“Ah, Aspen, take your feet and push them into my skin.”
Finding a patch of soil, Aspen buried her feet into the dirt and stood waiting. Slowly, she felt her toes growing downward into the earth, stretching deeper and deeper through multiple layers. Her body began to stiffen, and her torso began to sprout upward toward the sky; her arms shot out from her sockets, and her fingers began to divide and push upward in wavy lines. When her body was finished growing, she felt tiny, small buds gathering along the branches of her fingers and arms, where spade shaped leaves sprouted. They were golden like her hair and reflected silver in the fading moonlight.
Aspen spent the day basking in the sun, feeling the energy shift and pulse through her elegant limbs as she inhaled its light and breathed out through her cloistered, golden leaves. She practiced shimmying in the wind, and waited patiently as the sun gently fell into the hillside and brought on the black blanket night. Finally the object of her affection began to appear along the mountainside.
Looking up, Aspen shook her top limbs, swaying her appendages; she caught the inquisitive eye of the moon, sitting in the corner of the sky, playing peek-a-boo between the metallic clouds that wandered haphazardly through the night.
When the moon’s attention fell on her, Aspen began to dance in the wind, shimmering and shaking for her love. With concentration and ferocity, the moon turned all her light toward the aspen, focusing a small, passionate beam longingly on each nook and cranny of the tree. As she honed in on her, Aspen moved her branches, the spade shaped leaves glittering in the moon’s attention. The more Aspen trembled, the more she reflected back to the moon; the more the moon shone, the greater Aspen glimmered, dancing with iridescence.
Finally the moon spoke, “What is your name?”
Shyly, the tree replied, “Aspen.”
“Where did you come from?” asked the moon.
“Every evening, when you would rise, I would dance for you on the forest floor but your light never reached me enough for you to see me. Mother Earth took pity on me and transformed me into this tree so that I could be close enough for you to know my love.
“Aspen, you have stolen my heart. I want to admire you from the clear night sky and reach your tender limbs as they reach for the sky to touch me. I want to feel you close and find you always in the deep evening velvet that covers the hills. I want you to show how delicate and startling our love is to the world, and know that when I seek you with my light, you are always reflecting the most loving part of myself back to remind me that you make me whole.”
Aspen shivered with requited love, and the moon laughed. “I love you, my dear moon, and want nothing more than to feel the grace of your moonshine.”
Each evening, the moon, when the clouds allowed, would scour the earth for its beloved Aspen, searching for her blanched trunk and silver, lustrous leaves. As their love grew and time passed, Aspen shed across the mountain’s forest floor during the winter, when she felt the most intimate with her beloved during the extended cold nights; in summer, she shimmied and danced with joyous abandon.
One year, the Aspen fell prey to pests rooting through the mountain trees, and she grew weak, her branches and leaves slashed. Her loving moon tried to heal her with her light, but Aspen could no longer fight. On a warm summer night, as her love rose full, she shook for the very last time in the light of her love.
As she faded away, the moon screamed out into the night sky as though she would crack in half, “I will never shine again!”
Aspen, before leaving, lifted her branches as far as she could stretch to try to touch the moon, and told her, “Oh, but my moon, how could I have loved you if I never knew your light?” The moon flooded Aspen, lighting every inch, watching as she slowly shrank beneath the tree line until she lie upon the earth in her human form, barely noticeable in the moon’s focused beam. Gently, Mother Earth swallowed Aspen, and then she was gone.
The moon was distraught with heartbreak, and refused to shine for many years, hiding behind the horizon and clouds. Finally transcending her grief, the moon rose above the familiar hillside where her treasured Aspen once stood. She felt solitary and heartsick at the waves of ordinary trees shaking in the wind. As the forest greeted the moon, the moon began to feel her loneliness subside, and she threw her beams across the mountain.
To her awe, dotting the forest, rising slowly but shining fiercely, Aspen’s tiny saplings waved to the moon as they stood in her luminosity.
Taken aback, the moon watched aspens spread across the hills and country in every direction, dancing in the moon’s bright glow. Her heart leapt in joy and love, drinking in their mother’s beauty, slowly replacing the hole her Aspen left behind. Every night thereafter, the moon rose to remember her beloved by watching her children grow, and felt forever touched by her magic.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...