Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"I Never Apologize, and I Never Explain"

Notice the quotation marks above. Much as I wish I'd been the one to say that, I certainly wasn't. I'll never forget the moment I heard it, though. I was at a poetry reading, and the guy running the event introduced a woman, a poet friend from out of town. As soon as he finished the introduction, she said, "I never apologize for my work, and I never explain it." She said it with a smile, as if she knew that demands for apologies and explanations would be coming very shortly. Then she launched into her poem. I don't remember any of the specific lines (I went to this reading more than fifteen years ago), but for the rest of my life I'll remember how intensely uncomfortable it made me. Those things people say about squirming in your seat were literally true for me. Her poem was angry and dark and sexual and as unashamed as her introduction to it had been. I remember my face heating, the desire for nervous laughter bubbling up within me, and, underneath all that, the most intense admiration and envy of her confidence.

It's been many years, but I can still hear her voice as clearly as if she sat beside me. That's still what I wish I could say about what I do, though all too often I wind up apologizing or trying to explain myself anyway. But there's an important way that, sometimes, she gives me permission.

From here on out in this post, trigger warning for rape and incest.
For this moment, I'll eschew further introduction and explanation, and share the link, blurb, and intro for my latest release, "The Good Brother."


In the second book of Samuel, the tragedies of the children of King David unfold. Tamar is raped by her brother Amnon. "The Good Brother" imagines Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom in a modern-day setting, and tells the story of Tamar's halting, stunted attempts at recovery after Amnon's attack, including her troubled & sexually charged relationship with Absalom.


Coming Together: By the Book is a collection of stories which depicts relationships as they are portrayed in the Bible. Slavery, stoning, virgin daughters... it's all fair game. This anthology was inspired by the vehement ranting of anti-gay preachers who profess to know how their Lord wants us all to behave by citing a couple isolated lines of Leviticus from the Christian Bible.

Sales proceeds will benefit Darkness to Light, which works to end child sexual abuse.

Here's the opening to the story:

I. Dress

Tamar wore a salmon-colored dress the day her brother raped her. She had decided to buy it at the mall the weekend before, as she stood in the dressing room at the store, pleased to see she did not have to suck in her belly to make the dress's lines appear smooth and sleek on her body. The garment had made her feel delicate and lovely. Because of its crinoline lining, the skirt puffed out and floated around her as if she were a ballerina fairy princess.

She had worn this dress to her brother's house that day because it reminded her of childhood. In that color, in that skirt that made her want to spin around, she remembered playing in the yard with Amnon when they were little, tackling each other and giggling, too young to worry about grass stains, or to even know about them. Maybe she had worn it for him.

Had she worn it for him?

In the days afterward, the thought made her shudder.

After Amnon raped her, Tamar managed to drive, very slowly and carefully, to her other brother Absalom's house. She knocked on the door and went inside, and the first thing she did was shut herself up in Absalom's bathroom and take off the dress. Her mind burned with clinical precision. She noted every tiny tear in the crinoline, and each of the little bloodstains that had leaked out of her and onto the skirt because she had been on her period when Amnon forced her. She felt nothing, and she knew this was bad because, until that moment, she had loved the dress with innocent passion that now seemed to belong to a completely different woman.

The worst thing, perhaps, was that she thought she could repair the dress. Peroxide could wipe away the blood. A little needlework could fix the tears. Then no mark would be left proclaiming what Amnon had done to her.

Tamar did not fix the dress. Instead, she bunched it into a very tiny ball, then squeezed it until it grew tinier still, then ground it even smaller with so much effort that she had to clench her teeth. She took the trash bag out of Absalom's bathroom wastebasket and wrapped it around the dress, keeping everything tight and neat. With grim satisfaction, she watched through the clear plastic as his discarded razorblades pressed against the dress.

She stepped out of the bathroom naked, holding the bag, ignoring Absalom's cry of alarm. When he came toward her to wrap her in a robe, she went still for a moment, wondering if Absalom, too, wanted to fuck her, and wondering if she would like it with him more or less than with Amnon.

Tamar went limp and curious in Absalom's arms, just as she had with Amnon. It would have been nice if her mind was blank, but really it roiled with guilt, disgust, arousal, and fear. She let Absalom take her into the guest bedroom and put her on the bed. She spread her legs once she got there, and did not recognize what flashed through Absalom's eyes before he turned away. "Who did this to you?" Absalom whispered, and the ache in his voice broke Tamar's heart.

Now she sobbed. He held her. He must have thought she cried for herself. Absalom repeated his question.

Amnon's name now felt too private to say.

Absalom waited. When she remained silent, he kissed her on the forehead, took the bag containing the dress, thrust it into the closet at the very bottom of the laundry basket, and promised, "I'll kill him."


The rest of the story is available here.


I don't think I'll be able to resist doing some explaining eventually, because I do have things to say about this story, and the Bible story it's based on, and the line of stories it's part of, and the issues it raises. I'll let it stand alone for now, however, at least for today.

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