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 –

null

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.