Here is a really important poem to me by one of my all time favorite poets. This poem touches on so many issues that I would like to examine more deeply. But I would like to focus on a common sterotype about sexual assault – that victims should have been smarter or avoided the dangerous situation. In this lyrical yet haunting poem, Hayes shatters this stereotype with truth.
A Girl in the Woods
by Terrance Hayes
Why wouldn’t she have wanted to be there at first,
riding low into whatever song the radio played,
that girl running her nails along the worn backseat
of a Cadillac, beat-up and beach blue
with a busted muffler and fur-covered steering wheel,
that car clamorous and big enough to seem ridiculous
rambling from the high school parking lot
with laughter in its belly: two thin brown boys upfront
and the thin brown girl they’d promised a ride home
rocking in the rearview, music coating their teeth?
She might have wanted to be there because
they were her friends, just as they were mine,
and when their long blue door swung open,
even you might have climbed in and gone smiling
behind their tight-lipped tinted windows,
and you would have had nothing to fear
until they turned from the road and parked in the woods,
as they turned and parked that day where the road was soft:
the brown boys who turned to reach for the brown girl
and coo how she was about to be raped.
They should have known better than to fool around that way.
I remember the way your mother told me to take off
my sneakers and wait for you in the hallway
before our first date, and the sound of her footsteps following
you through a room somewhere in that house
as she warned you against staying out late with a boy like me.
After we’d parked and made love kneeling in the woods,
I laughed and asked you why she had to be that way.
I have thought of your body in the underbrush for year.
And I have thought of the story you told me about being raped.
Because they were my friends, they told me the story
they had promised to never tell: how the girl wept
even after they raised their naked palms, promising
it would be okay. It was a prank, it was a simple mistake.
They should have known better than to fool around that way,
those boys who were not boys, men who were not men,
their narrow veins, narrow rivers
of hunger branching into muscle and skin.
Who made the road leading from the road?
What was the song they sang before turning off?
Who made them stop? Maybe her weeping
made them become themselves again,
or made them something they had not been.
Before they reached her house, each of them trembling,
I imagine the girl drying her face, her mother looking
from the window when they pulled into the driveway.