Dirty Blood (and Other Hymns)
We are allowed to undress but not allowed to shower. The locker room is hot and sticky and always smelling faintly of socks. Our lockers slam as we quickly shirk ourselves out of button-downs and skirts, sliding black tights from their elegant perches into crumpled, fist-sized balls. Someone is playing a pop song from her phone. Someone else is dancing. Emma stands beside me, talking about history tests and late homework, whatever it is that’s been worrying her these days, and I keep my gaze straight ahead. The room’s colors are fading into shades of flesh. Someone’s bare feet pad across the floor. Straight ahead. Straight ahead, facing the rusted back of my locker. Something dark and sneering hangs heavy from the ceiling, trying to crawl down my throat. Kaitlyn, a few feet away, tears a pad from its wrapper. I look only for a second.
My body hates me
and I count it among the things
I did not ask for.
I count it as I have always counted it
it grows a decade older
decides to decompose or
start a fight or
Wavering over the line between psychosomatic
My father arrives twenty minutes after I call him, and still it feels like a lifetime. He walks me to the car, a hand on my back, and stands by to make sure I can bend myself enough to fit inside. We drive in silence. The road hums and I groan into the hood of my sweatshirt. He asks did Sabrina and I finish the project. I say no. He asks when will we do that. I say I don’t know, some day when I’m not feeling like death. Exit signs rush by us and I think of vomiting. Or maybe of just holding open my mouth and screaming until the soreness of my throat outweighs the aches everywhere else. My father asks is it the cramping again. I say yes. I say it always is.
and how I thought
they might hurt less
were the whole thing
torn out of me,
fingernail and fingernail undoing the net
and scooping the flesh.
How I thought of taking it
(this leaking pink thing
that cannot be named)
and burying it in the dirt,
weeping Mother Nature, Mother Nature,
cradle my burden and carry it away.
Why choose me for something like this? It’s almost comical, sparing the girls with hourglass figures only to crush and crumple me down into a thousand pieces. What’s the use? They, built like the flaring out of a rose, breasts full and heavy and how they should be, boldly declaring their lack of plain with bare stomachs and tight belts. I, stickish and boyish, made up of bone and bile, doubled over weeping as my body tears itself apart. I look at myself in the mirror, studying my odd form. Why all this agony for a girl that’s barely a girl at all?
What kind of animal is born
from a rib?
What kind of animal grows
like rot creeping up the corridors
of a carcass?
What did Adam think when he woke
and saw her,
this thing standing over him?
Hair long and ratty,
body loose and lumpy,
tiny and watching
Well, he fucked her.
That we know.
what did Adam think when he woke
and saw her,
the juice running down her chin,
teeth bared in a grin all full of seeds and skin?
I did it, I’ll bet she told him.
I did it and I wasn’t afraid.
She kissed the serpent
and God gave her the aches.
God gave her the umbilical.
God gave her the dirty blood
so she would remember her mistake.
Our mistake, Eve.
You’ve brought this on both of us.
Still awake, still not wanting to be. The nurses hike up my shirt and push me flat on the examination table. One is round-faced, red-cheeked, blonde. Smiling with her mouth shut and snapping plastic gloves onto her fingers. The other will not turn to face me. The blonde squeezes blue gel from a bottle out onto my abdomen, rubs. I hiss when the coldness hits me, burning, and the other nurse—a brunette—plays Christmas music from her laptop. With a thick white wire and a strange alien tool the blonde presses onto me, shoves my organs into each other, and I know that if I look at the monitor behind me, I will be able to see them. My fingers grip the sides of the table, and it sticks to my skin. A milky male voice croons from the computer. I am splayed out like a hog in a freezer or a deer with its eyes shot out: open, pathetic, forgetting how to breathe. There it is, the blonde tells me, pointing to an image of my uterus. I swallow spit and stare. So strange for us to finally meet.
standing above the grave,
hair soaked through with rain and
womb still open and dripping, well—
I was never much of a woman
I have not left my bed for two days. The ceiling is far too familiar now, every bump in the stucco a memory. I cannot move. My hands clutch my stomach like it might burst any second, and maybe it will. This every month. This endlessly. Worsening and worsening as time goes on, embedded tissue and churning stomach. Have I always been so weak? So easily hurt? The fan whispers beside me, brushing the hair out of my face every time it oscillates, and I rub the pads of my fingers over the pain. Nothing changes. I ask myself if I have eaten today, already knowing the answer.
I might crush the serpent, I think.
I might slit him down the middle
and roll him up
till he oozes and screeches
and swallows himself.
Maybe then he will feel it.
Maybe then he will understand
what he has done to me.