All That She Carried – Marianne Peel

I.                    My former student Clara –

star of brilliance studying at Oxford –

clutches a chunk of concrete

from a construction site

in her hand, as she walks home today.

 

A windowless van

loaded with men

drives away,

laughing at her in the wake

of their exhaust.

 

Within five minutes

a man who claims I’ve seen you

around lately, follows her, trails her,

until another woman joins her side,

walks with her.

 

II.                 Forty-five years ago,

waitressing, the manager at Denny’s

gut-punched me, knocked me onto the floor.

Because I had refused to park in the back lot

when I worked the graveyard shift. 

 

Told me he was teaching me a lesson:

training me to prepare

for coffee counter 2am drunks

who would attack me in the unlit back lot,

shrouded by the cover of woods.

 

Forty years ago

a professor –reviewer of opera

and all things artful –implored me to

wear my hair in pigtails.  To fulfill his fantasy

of having an incestuous affair with his daughter.

 

Another professor admonished me for wearing

overalls over my blue flannel shirt.  Declared

I had no right to hide my curves from

the male gaze.  Told me I had no business

burying my femininity beneath sack denim.

 

Twenty years ago

on a bridge at night, a man on a bike

rode figure 8’s around me.  Humming.

And then whistling.  Each rotation

moving closer and closer.  Tires whirring.

 

I clutched my sharpest key

between thumb and forefinger. 

Rehearsed how I would use this weapon

to penetrate the tender spot

between his eyes.

 

I planned his destruction over and over,

as each figure 8 encroached further into my sphere.

I would not hesitate to gouge out his eyes.  This fight

response embedded in my DNA.  I have prepared

for this battle my whole life.  I would not hesitate

to gouge out his eyes. And I would feel no remorse.

 

III.              This morning my new doctor in Chicago

stares at my torso.  Asks how tall I am.

We are the same height.  Tells me

his weight.  Frowns at my torso.  Tells me

his weight again. Boasting that he eats

no pizza or pasta.

 

Checking for psoriasis, he tells me now I am

going to get a little personal.  Reaches behind my back.

Pulls the elastic of my underwear away from my skin.

Searches for psoriasis.  Grabs the bloodwork sheets

out of my hands. Instructs me to pull up a chair next to him. 

At his desk.  To go over results.

 

I scrounge through a script in my head. Negotiate

with myself.  I am afraid

if I don’t cooperate, he will dismiss me as a patient.

I waited four months for this appointment.  A specialist:

he is in desperate demand and knows it. I can barely

walk, joints inflamed.  I cannot wait

another four months for meds.

 

I want him to stay on his side

of the exam room. To talk to me

from behind his mask.  Want to discuss

a treatment plan without his trousers

breathing too close to my knees.

 

And in the meantime, I choke on my own

unspoken words.  Gag on the muffling

of rage firing at the back of my throat.

Feel the adrenaline

in my shaking hands

hours

years

decades

after I am violated. 

 

Every woman knows

this story.  We all clutch

chunks of concrete. 

Photo by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash


After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne is now nurturing her own creative spirit.  She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016).  Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, Gyroscope Review, among others. Marianne was a finalist for the Naugatuck River Review Narrative Poetry Contest (2020), and she was longlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize (2021). Further, she received 3rd Place Poetry Award in Comstock Review’s Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Contest.  In addition, her chapbook was a finalist in Comstock Review’s Jesse Brice Niles Chapbook Contest.   She has a collection of poetry, No Distance Between Us, published in 2021 by Shadelandhouse Modern Press.

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