After I just posted this last poem, I started thinking about one of my former students. When I was in Guyana, I taught seventh grade at a remedial high school. I knew that the experience of my students in Guyana would be incredibly different from my adolescence, but I was surprised at the tragedy that every single one of my students had endured.
I had one student in particalur, Lisa, who disappeared from school one day. No one knew where to find her, and no one really searched. A group of friends – women without husbands who the town dubbed lesbians – found her a week later, beaten up on the side of the road, inches from death. She had met a man, at least ten years her senior, who promised her a life of comfort in exchange for the prize of her thirteen year old body. She came back to school a few weeks later, the scars on her face healed, but her eyes haunt me to this day. Here is something I wrote about her:
Lisa smiles like a woman
the secret pact of women who have endured
the maturity to hide scars
she sits in the back of the class, legs too long for the Form 2 desk, her knees burn into wood. but she folds her hands across her lap and waits for class to start. the short boy beside her, the kid everyone calls ‘roach’ partly because it is his tittle and partly because it suits him, watches her, too shy to speak. The same way celebrity stuns, Lisa commands quiet. I remember her short hair at the beginning of the term. Her curling plaits that touch her ears remind me of the stretch of time that has passed in her absence. as quick as breath.
he beat the girl for two and a half hours before someone stopped him. They found her, crumpled, broken, with a harem of lesbians a week later. the women had taken the running child in. how did she find the strength to run? beaten near to death, thin limbs bloody, face raw, heart destroyed. what was he trying to find? something that defied exhaustion or humanity, his fists refused to let up. and her mother, somewhere enjoying the feel of the next man’s words in her ears, the elixir of promise velvety smooth on her skin. While lisa felt even the air as it traveled across layers of skin she never knew she had. foreign hands lifting her into shame that her brain could not even fathom, she could only feel the warmth of smiles. of women’s faces surrounding her. a threat disarmed.
this is to the faces pressed in mud
the screams silenced beneath the foot of doubt
why would I do that? don’t you know they always want it
this is to the thirteen year old girl abused by her father
but he has a job driving a boat and he brings home bread and sometimes chicken
and what’s a girl supposed to do?
this is to the girls without voices
who sometimes find it hard enough just to breathe.