A Name for Things

by Amy Alexander

 

Content warning: sexual assault.

Every object in this photograph has a name.
Rabbit the clock
Tonka the truck
Mr. and Mrs. Claus
shimmering like disco royalty
in the background.
My mother shoved pins in them
with sequins the color of rubies
and made them glimmer

 

My Red Turtleneck
had a tight rib knit
that went all the way to the top of my neck.
I had just turned seven.
Years later, that would be the spot on me
where the sense of choking would move in,
usually at fancy restaurants
so I’d have to take a doggy bag
with my steak in it home to eat, alone,
in the dark,
but also, sometimes, at places like McDonald’s.
It was unpredictable like that,
The Panic
rose when it wanted to.

 

I traced it back to the same time
this photo was taken.
The girl in Red Turtleneck
smiles,
and she doesn’t tell you,
doesn’t tell anyone,
she was raped
she
doesn’t even know
that
word
this girl has a secret
and a shame
but, look,
she’s fun,
she smiles
her hair is combed,
it’s already grown out
after she tried to chop it all off that fall.

 

It’s Christmas.
She has Rabbit the Clock,
she has Goldie the mare
she’s done more than count her blessings,
she’s named them all
in an effort not to name what happened
what happened
was rape
what happened
went down in a wet place they called
The Cattails
not far from Meadow Drive.

 

The first time she saw a penis,
she knew what it was called
because her mother always told her
to use the correct name for things.
She told her mother what happened
in The Cattails,
but her mother didn’t help her to talk about
What Happened in the Cattails
it was only, ever,
What Happened in the Cattails

 

Years later,
she would become an investigative newspaper reporter,
but all the names she looked up
the facts she memorized
never gave her permission
to name it.
She wondered what the statute of limitations was on
“What Happened in the Cattails,”
but it wasn’t listed anywhere,
and it was infuriating, because
she’d really like to know who to blame for
The Panic.

 

The Panic
had no expiration date.
And it was so precise,
knowing
not only her name,
but also where she lived
and what her body was made of,
all the way down to the double helix,
named by Watson and Crick.

 

Panic was the shaky signature left by the rapist –
his name was Dwayne, and they called him that,
because he was just a person who made a mistake –

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AMY ALEXANDER

Amy writes and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, between the Mississippi River and the bayou. When she isn’t busy writing poetry and homeschooling her kids, she enjoys running, cooking, reading about cooking and creating art. Follow her on Twitter @iriemom.