Poetry Contest Winner, First Prize

Cassandra Rockwood Ghanem

Table of Contents

When your life is marked by traumatic events and each memory holds within it
A location
A violation
A part of the body
What someone told you when you said something about it
How they framed and reframed
Asked for more
Didn’t
Wanted you to stop making yourself look like a victim
Wanted you to stop being so bold
Wanted you to focus more on resilience
Wanted a happier ending
Preferred the metaphor
Preferred the silence
Told you not to call it by its name
Told you to give it another name
And when you did, when you called it teeth, that wasn’t the right one
And when you called it flora, that had already been done
How do you make chapters
Add titles
Separate one thing from the next in an ouroboros of returning
When a new pain is inflicted by the same mouth
When the same pain is inflicted by a different mouth
When you’re reminded of what occurred
How does that not become something fresh
How is a vicarious trauma not your own trauma
How does the child not witness the mother and become her
The child is writing on the wall what the mother is writing on the child’s back
Who gets to tell the child part of you what it knows about what ends cycles of violence
When page five is also the same as page fifty-five, just years apart, or generations apart
When the father’s hands find their way into everything
When the father wants to use your own hands to write him a new name
When the priest wants that, too
When you recognize a correlation between abuse of the earth and abuse of women and children
And you try to make music out of it, but the record keeps skipping
When you are walking a different path but the same flowers grow there
When the way it became a movie in your head wasn’t acceptable
When they called you a trauma pornographer
Because it isn’t sexy to them, wasn’t made for them, because it doesn’t suit their gaze
Then they ask you to submit
To include a table of contents or turn it into a memoir
Make it represent the whole of you, at least, so they can call you damaged
Give each page its own title, so they can categorize it
And it begins to remind you of slut-shaming or victim-blaming
Wear a longer skirt, they say, and bad things won’t happen
Show less skin, be more ladylike
But you know that’s how this started in the first place, how it began before you were born
The order of things has always been your undoing
So instead you give them more of what they don’t approve of
You give them your version of the story
How one afternoon in a park is only survivable if you turn it into a one act play
How the spirit knows how to fly above the body, yes, but that’s when the child is no more
And you do it even though you won’t get the same accolades that a man would for telling it
And you do it even though they’ll try to invade and invalidate it
And you do it even though it’ll be rejected so many times for so many different reasons
Because these are your contents
But you didn’t put them there
And it’s time to expose them to the light of day
Return them to their senders
It’s time to put them on the table