by Vievee Francis
for Gabby and Jen
I never remember the knuckles, though
his hand was bare, though their hands were bare.
I remember the impressions left on this skin, the
wilting and the welting. I don't remember the sound,
not one smack. I remember the falls, myself falling
to the floor or sidewalk, or against the brick wall
my head met after a push. There were many pushes.
Girls pushed but I punched. Pulled one
down by the hair and kneed her as my head bled.
Girls didn't punch until high school. I had always
punched. What kind of girl are you?
The kind who wants to live, I said, and I did want to
until I didn't anymore. But I wanted the leaving
to be on my terms, so I hit my father back.
He owned me like any good, country father. He
waited for a husband to tame what he couldn't corral,
to throw a rope like fingers 'round a neck.
When I missed a boy, fingerholds—I remember those,
and me making a fist wrongly, and punching
and I didn't mean to miss but to hit the line below the belly,
the beltline. W—— broke me in the snow
my first year North. I'm still afraid to say his name.
I wore shoes too thin for the weather (who had ever seen
such snow?) and had a Georgia lilt, like molasses
on a sore throat, sugared, raw, and he hated the sound of it.
He was black and I was black and I was so happy
to be in Detroit, and he aimed for my heart-
shaped mouth, my gapped teeth, my too-sweet tongue.
I felt the juvenile weight of him above me like snow after dark
falling steady and hard. I'm gone teach you to talk reg'lar,
and I stopped speaking at all. I kept my swollen mouth shut,
and a straight razor in my math book, and dreamt of a bat
cracking against his chest. A woman like me
with soft hands, not hands of the field, but
hands meant to stroke and soothe, needs a weapon,
so I studied The Art of War and watched boxing, and
where else was all this rage to go? Is this too dramatic?
Find another story. Find a lie. In love, body after body
fell beneath my own, though my own was broken,
and I made love like a sea creature, fluid as if boneless
though my bones would rattle if not for the fat I cherish.
Wouldn't you? And I grew to love the heavyweights,
myself with one in the ring. Imagine him punching
me, and punching me again, saying I'm sorry, so sorry,
to have to love you this way.
Last updated February 23, 2023