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World Poetry Day ’17: An Open Letter to the Guy at Work by Liz Ruddy

If there is one poem I’d like to share on World Poetry Day 2017, it’s this one:

It’s a Monday morning and we’re making small-talk,
“How was your weekend?”
“You see that fire out in Calabasas?”
“It’s been so cloudy lately.”
“So how about that rape letter?”
Yeah, you saw I’d posted about it “like seven times.”
Yeah, I tell you it makes me angry.
Angrier than usual.
(You know, because this is usual.)
“Listen,” you say, and you pause,
like, “I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this.”
That’s when I pull out the thick skin,
the kind women always keep tied around their waists
like an extra flannel shirt,
ready to throw on before meetings or rape trials,
or walking down the street,
or making small-talk at the office,
I’ll try my best not to get offended by what you say,
because I know how offensive it is
to have my own opinion.
“People are saying that it’s 100% his fault and 0% her fault…”
You say, hesitantly,
the way women are taught to speak,
afraid of their own mouths.
“And I agree…


I stare at you in disbelief for a moment,
sick to my stomach,
like, stranger groping my ass in a crowded train
kind of sick to my stomach,
just as unable to respond,
to discern bile from protest
bubbling in my throat,
wanting to explain,
like, hey,
you don’t need to play devil’s advocate—
he’s already got one,
and he’s good enough to get him off
with only six months.
But I knew that any response of mine
would be sharp
like, car keys between knuckles sharp,
and so instead
I did the only
thing I could do in that situation.
I walked away.

But I should’ve remembered
that my retreating back
is a fucking invitation,
because as I did so,
you felt the need to add insult to injury,
like, turning away wasn’t enough of an indication
that this subject was too painful
for me to deal with right now,
like, I wasn’t allowed to walk away
without your permission.
So you got in one last word, like,
“Seriously! Just think about it!”
Think about it.
Like I don’t.

Like I have the fucking privilege
of not thinking about it.

Like I don’t think about it
when I go for a run after work
and instead of using a timer,
my personal best is just
running faster than anyone who’s following me.

Like I don’t think about it
when I leave the headphones at home
on my way to pick up milk,
because I need to hear if anyone’s coming up behind me
and it’s already hard to make it out
over the soundtrack of my someday interrogation

Don’t you know you live in K-town?
Why would you walk alone after dark?
What did you think was going to happen?

Like I don’t think about it
when I pick an outfit from my closet
and look at it like a piece of evidence,
if I get raped when I’m wearing this tonight,
how guilty would it make me?
Like maybe they should mark it on the tag,
60% cotton, 40% her fault.

Like I don’t think about it
when strangers offer to buy me a beer.
Like this is fucking Wonderland
and that bottle says
“drink me”
and my miniskirt says
“rape me,”
like we’re all just making bad choices,
and the fact that I’m shrinking
into nothing
is just a nasty side-effect
of this toxic culture
to which we both fell victim.

Like I don’t fucking think about it
when my little sister sends me photos
that she wants to put on Facebook,
for my APPROVAL.
To make sure they’re appropriate.
To make sure they’re safe.
To imagine them under a headline
about how she got raped behind a dumpster,
like, does this profile picture test well
with the jury of Buzzfeed commenters?
I wonder if they’ll use his mug shot or his yearbook photo.
I wonder what his swimming times are.

“Just think about it,” you tell me.
Just think about it?
Like I don’t think about it when boys like you
say shit like,
“But don’t you also agree
that this whole thing
could have been avoided
if she had just been more

Like I don’t constantly think about
how I live in a world
where women are held responsible for the actions of men.
Like I didn’t learn that in middle school
when girls were sent home
for wearing tank tops with straps
thinner than two fingers.
Like it wasn’t made clear
every time they called us
“daughters, sisters, mothers”
that we only exist in relation to men,
that we are merely extensions of them,
so of course,
we should be more responsible,
so as not to let them rape us
and ruin their own life
with the same two fingers
they once used to measure our straps.

Like I don’t think about it.
Like I can choose not to think about it.

Like I wasn’t up all fucking night thinking about it.
But it’s almost 5am,
and I need to sleep before tomorrow,
so I have the energy to smile at the men on the street,
so they don’t have to ask me to.
But first, I need to make sure
that I’m being perfectly clear—
like, “no means no” clear,
like, “an intoxicated person cannot consent” clear,
like, “an unconscious person cannot consent” clear,
like, “sex without consent is not sex, it’s rape” clear,
like, “guilty on three counts of sexual assault” clear.
(I’m sorry, am I not being clear?)
Here, let me keep it simple.
I do NOT fucking agree.
Think about it.



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