Category Archives: Poetry

ASHES TO ASHES

A Prose Poem by Mackenzie Arnold

“Beloved,” he spoke, with eyes that looked to me and then to the black bible open in his hands so that he could taste the word of God in his mouth again. “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. First Peter. Chapter Two. Verse Eleven.” He had to part his jaw like a gasp, teeth grazing bottom lip, tongue rolling to form the words, “passions of the flesh.” I thought they sounded so romantic until it was my flesh that he wanted.

Afterwards I burned my own bible, and I stayed to watch the ashes stir until I realized that they must have done the same at the end of all the witch trials. The fire was already out, but tears fell from my eyes anyways and so I cried in bitter irony. I imagined they were holy water—the tears—and as they ran down my cheeks I parted my lips so that they could wash his hypocrisy from my tongue.

I realized too late that it was not God I wanted to burn, but the one who liked the taste of God’s words in his mouth—if only to trick himself into thinking that he was                                                                                                                                                                  Divine.   

———

Abstract:

I never thought much about religion as a child. Despite growing up just outside of Dallas, Texas, where mega-churches and celebrity pastors reign supreme, I remained largely untouched by the dogma of these institutions because my family simply didn’t go to church. When I began high school at a private Christian academy though, I was suddenly plunged into a very suffocating environment that made it very apparent that my existence as a girl, and any form of feminine sexuality, was wrong. 

I wrote this prose poem in hindsight, looking back on my experiences in a place that was supposed to educate me, and yet insisted upon waging war on my body. In my poem, the emphasis is on the hypocrisy of the male figures I encountered during that time, and how confusing it was to be both punished and desired for my body—of which both outcomes were somehow my fault, and because of which it was often hard to distinguish between the two in the moment. These experiences led me to hate religion and any type of spirituality in general, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s not these beliefs that are toxic, but some of the people that practice them. I now find it gratifying to be able to use spirituality and what I suppose you could call religion, which was so often used to shrink me, as a way to empower myself—especially as a woman.

A Story Like Mine

We highly recommended watching Halsey’s incredible performance. If you are unable to listen, you can read the transcript full transcript below via Billboard.

It’s 2009 and I’m 14 and I’m crying
Not really sure where I am but I’m holding the hand of my best friend Sam
In the waiting room of a Planned Parenthood
The air is sterile and clean, and the walls are that not grey, but green
And the lights are so bright they could burn a whole through the seam of my jeans
My phone is buzzing in the pocket
My mom is asking me if I remembered my keys ’cause she’s closing the door and she needs to lock it
But I can’t tell my mom where I’ve gone
I can’t tell anyone at all
You see, my best friend Sam was raped by a man that we knew ’cause he worked in the after-school program
And he held her down with her textbook beside her
And he covered her mouth and he came inside her
So now I’m with Sam, at the place with a plan, waiting for the results of a medical exam
And she’s praying she doesn’t need an abortion, she couldn’t afford it
And her parents would, like, totally kill her

It’s 2002 and my family just moved and the only people I know are my mom’s friends, too, and her son
He’s got a case of Matchbox cars and he says that he’ll teach me to play the guitar if I just keep quiet
And the stairwell beside apartment 1245 will haunt me in my sleep for as long as I am alive
And I’m too young to know why it aches in my thighs, but I must lie, I must lie

It’s 2012 and I’m dating a guy and I sleep in his bed and I just learned how to drive
And he’s older than me and he drinks whiskey neat and he’s paying for everything
This adult thing is not cheap
We’ve been fighting a lot, almost 10 times a week
And he wants to have sex, and I just want to sleep
He says I can’t say no to him
This much I owe to him
He buys my dinner, so I have to blow him
He’s taken to forcing me down on my knees
And I’m confused ’cause he’s hurting me while he says please
And he’s only a man, and these things he just needs
He’s my boyfriend, so why am I filled with unease?

It’s 2017 and I live like a queen
And I’ve followed damn near every one of my dreams
I’m invincible and I’m so fucking naive
I believe I’m protected ’cause I live on a screen
Nobody would dare act that way around me
I’ve earned my protection, eternally clean
Until a man that I trust gets his hands in my pants
But I don’t want none of that, I just wanted to dance
And I wake up the next morning like I’m in a trance and there’s blood
Is that my blood?
Hold on a minute

You see I’ve worked every day since I was 18
I’ve toured everywhere from Japan to Mar-a-Lago
I even went on stage that night in Chicago when I was having a miscarriage
I mean, I pied the piper, I put on a diaper
And sang out my spleen to a room full of teens
What do you mean this happened to me?
You can’t put your hands on me
You don’t know what my body has been through
I’m supposed to be safe now
I earned it

It’s 2018 and I’ve realized nobody is safe long as she is alive
And every friend that I know has a story like mine
And the world tells me we should take it as a compliment
But then heroes like Ashley and Simone and Gabby, McKayla and Gaga, Rosario, Aly
Remind me this is the beginning, it is not the finale
And that’s why we’re here
And that’s why we rally
It’s Olympians and a medical resident and not one fucking word from the man who is President
It’s about closed doors and secrets and legs and stilletos from the Hollywood hills to the projects in ghettos
When babies are ripped from the arms of teen mothers and child brides cry globally under the covers
Who don’t have a voice on the magazine covers
They tell us take cover

But we are not free until all of us are free
So love your neighbor, please treat her kindly
Ask her story and then shut up and listen
Black, Asian, poor, wealthy, trans, cis, Muslim, Christian 
Listen, listen and then yell at the top of your lungs
Be a voice for all those who have prisoner tongues
For the people who had to grow up way too young
There is work to be done
There are songs to be sung
Lord knows there’s a war to be won

Hanging Fire

By Annie Jonas

I am eighteen
and I am scared
Why did Security pack its bags
with the swirl and sizzle
of blown out birthday candles
Goodbye god
i used to say
as the slithering grey serpent
pungent and choking
filled my nostrils with a suffocating stench
Goodbye god
Signed, sealed, delivered
The song is being sung
and i know i’m supposed
to like it
but it feels like some kind of mockery
like a death knoll
My last rites are too
beautiful
to be granted
They lay sleeping in the
blue and red bulbous wax
of still warm birthday candles
drip-drip-dripping
Cold now
How do you feel, (your name here)?
I feel good

I am eighteen
and i am scared
Car keys jagged
gripped between my cold fingers
are a lie
Maybe i’m in denial
They become reminders
digging into my flesh that
the boogie man doesn’t just
prey
on little girls anymore
That red lipstick is a song
and songs lure
and i’m not trying to sing
but i’m doing it anyway
And he took my smile as a gift
Take me now
My lipstick was the offering
I was the sacrifice
He was God
Pray
Pray for me when you get the chance
How do you feel, (your name here)?
I feel good

I am eighteen
and I am scared
that the kiss of cake
upon my tongue
will last longer than
myself
I am scared of becoming
the next taken girl
Of becoming the pronoun in the eulogy with
sadhappy adjectives
A pity
Of becoming Breaking News
blaring red
How do you feel, (your name here)?
I feel good

Hanging fire
Inhale
The moment between
Security and Reality
Melting candles before the cold
Red lipstick before the snatch
Cake before the bite
Make a wish, sweetheart
Exhale