4 Poems by Heather Dorn
In Winter my children lost mittens
so often, I worried they were
eating them, spools of thread
knotting around their small
intestines, fibers rupturing
their immune systems. I read to tie
mittens to one another for protection
but wouldn’t kids just swallow
the second to remove
evidence? The hats followed
the mittens, perhaps secret snacks
stashed under the mattress, the scarves
were found every summer to wear around
a backyard fire. Once around a midnight fire
my daughter wrapped a handkerchief
around a stick, finished a carton of orange juice
and said she was leaving on an adventure.
She ran off toward the walnut trees.
Last May, she sent a text
that she didn’t want to see me.
Her bear still lives in my closet, her drawings
on my wall. Mother’s Day coupons
unused, unexpired, waiting for an answer
to a voicemail. I find my children’s jackets
sweatshirts, socks, now too small
but can’t put them in a box or bin.
A grey sweatshirt is folded neatly
on my shoe rack, leggings lie in my laundry
one mitten sits in my closet
waiting for someone hungry.
Gristle & Bone
I knew we would never work
When you complained about a bone
In your fajitas, to the waitress
The manager, the cook
Me, shrinking across the table
I wanted to be invisible
Couldn’t fix it, couldn’t coax you quiet
Couldn’t convince you
nothing real is boneless
Now I think of your girlfriend
How she has become small for you
Gave away her furniture, no room
Gave away her old blind cat
Because you wouldn’t have it
Gave away her boyfriends
Though you were fucking
Around too, and lying about it
Yesterday you said, “She’s losing
Weight” You said, “I’m so
Proud of her.” Soon
She will take up
No space at all, soon
When you look at her
All you will see is you.
In the Winter I wake to find
my sock abandoned my foot
in the middle of the night
note on the nightstand: This
isn’t working. I think it went
where the earring has gone
where the mittens have gone
where ex-lovers have gone
to a place there’s no coming
back from. In the Winter I leave
an earring on her dresser. She
says she will return it but never
calls until Spring to tell me
she’s engaged now. I lurk her
fiancé on Facebook
should’ve seen the ring coming
skittish cat curled like eternity
in fiancé’s lap. She once asked me
what I wanted from life
I said “a washing machine”
instead of “you,” she jingled
her watch, a 24 carrot
I could not catch, said, “What
about a lake house?” Words
pregnant with matching towels
queen sized bed, meals for two
mutual friends and the weight
of them crushed my lungs,
“that’s too much
responsibility,” I looked out
the window at nothing, felt free
again. I don’t know why I search
their pictures for traces of my smile
I don’t know why she still
holds my earring.
[CW: sexual assault, childhood abuse, domestic abuse, trauma]
I was never shy, at least not as I remember, everything seeming to come so naturally and early too. First, there was a dream of a snake, slipping into a hammock where I lie covered. Something like sparklers happening to my body and I woke. Then the urge to pull a girl’s curls and watch them bounce. I kissed a boy I married in my apartment building when I was in junior high. A double wedding so my friend could kiss her crush; I was a good wingman. A few years later I fucked my boyfriend in the property’s hot tub. Public sex was interesting to me in high school: swimming pools, rest stops, movie theatres, on the hood of the car in front of my step-dad’s house. Most of these were my boyfriend’s idea. He was kinkier at 16 than most guys are at 30. More manipulative too. Too bad you can’t see the dirt you’re standing on.
When I married him at 18 we graduated to role play, ropes and cuffs, homemade pornography, and elements of BDSM and swinging. I remember not being sure about sleeping with other guys while he watched; that’s what he wanted me to do. I wanted to make him happy so eventually I went with it. I could talk myself into anything for him. I remember the first time we met someone, he stopped me in the middle of sex, demanded I get my clothes, and screamed at me all the way home while I cried. I’m still not sure what I did wrong. Or why I agreed to do it again.
Some female spiders and insects eat their mates. There are rumors about why, but I get the impression nobody really knows for sure. One idea is that the men are nutritious, part of a well-balanced diet. The women can produce more eggs when they fill up on thorax first. Another notion is that the women are hungry. Probably asked to go halfsies on a date where she got the side fly with ranch and he got the full rack of lizard. Or maybe it was the way he chewed, little clicks and ticks sopping up his food. So many small things can influence a relationship.
I remember Snapchatting a lover once, early into the morning. I confided that my ex once asked me why I looked so upset during sex. I was 19 or so when he’d asked, just married. My boyfriend asked me if this comment influenced the way I experienced sex, reacted during sex, felt about sex. I know he meant: are you faking it for me?
I got mad and told him the truth no man wants to swallow: that everything that has happened to me influences me sexually. The wolf-whistles from middle-aged men when I was ten, the man who followed me home, slowly in his car, when I was a teenager. The cousin who chased me and pinned me to the washer, the stepfather who had fingers like bugs when it was dark and I had my eyes closed. The ex who didn’t listen to safe words, the date who didn’t listen to no, the one who was on top of me when he asked me about my childhood abuse: “details,” he coaxed, pushing his hands between my legs, then later, when I left the room, going through my phone. The stacks of hundreds left on my nightstand, the one-time arrangements, sugar baby agreements; the less direct transactions: paid bills, fridges full, hotel rooms, and gifts from strangers. One boyfriend told me he “didn’t want to know how the sausage was made,” a crass, though popular, sentiment.
Men like sharing their opinions as much as theatre kids like sharing ditch weed. I had a boyfriend who called me the Ice Queen. “You would never cuddle with me!” he tattled, defending another date’s characterization of me as “cold.” A girlfriend said, “You never try to kiss me,” so I made a mental note. Kiss girlfriend. I wanted her to feel special, I just never thought about touching until sex was involved. My ex-husband was against public displays of affection. I’ve never been very comfortable with non-sexual touch. Someone is forever trying to hold me to his chest while I’m straining to sit, reaching for beef jerky and chocolate milk.
Another theory about sexual cannibalism states that the females eat the males after sex because they are aggressive. That’s it. Bitches fucking shit up because fuck you. At my core, I hope this is the truth. I imagine the women mantises in a bar parking lot after ladies’ night. A mantis is thinking about the dishes in the sink and the gross crispy sock by the office computer. She stumbles home to her monogamous mate for sex before ripping his dumb fucking head off. Some men never shut up.
My ex used to argue with me that rape was something men did when they were horny. He’d say “a man had sex with a woman without her consent” instead of “a man raped her.” I argued with him for a long time, like I did about abortion and the death penalty and welfare and war. Sex requires consent, I would say, and rape is about power. I never saw the red flags, waving in my face. One friend told me, “It’s as if your hand is on a hot stove…Move it!” But I still couldn’t really see. I’ve been gone three years and I’m still seeing new things. I think I will forever be unlearning abuse and misogyny.
I believe predators can sense prey. I once had a man growl at me before awkwardly pushing himself inside of me. I said no. I said ouch. I said stop. He kept going. I used to think of this as the worst sex I’d ever had. Now I know it was rape. When I stopped seeing him, he started texting me that he wanted to come fuck me. I stopped responding and he started texting that he wanted to rape me. I put this in a sealed shoebox in my head filed with similar stories, forgotten so I could function. In the same way, sex work required a closet of shoeboxes, though, on the whole, I got more respect as a sex worker than I have from some dates and hookups. Nonpaying partners generally act more entitled. They come in many types but share similar characteristics.
There’s the guy who feels entitled to a response to his message. “Hey,” he writes, “heyyy,” “heyyyy,” his language so eloquent it makes your panties drop. When you don’t respond, sometimes after just minutes, he encouragingly writes: “RESPOND.” If you don’t respond, you run the risk of becoming a “FAT UGLY BITCH” even if you were “soo hawt” a minute ago.
Then there’s the guy who feels entitled to nude pictures of you, often because he sent unsolicited pictures of himself. He wants reciprocation. He wants something to jack off to. Why are you being a prude? It’s not like he’s going to show them to anybody. You can trust him! He will argue with you for a long time because that’s how you get women to give you nude pictures. Women love to argue with men about the right to control their bodies.
There are also the men who feel entitled to a date. You may have chatted online for some time or he may message you out of the blue. Either way, the argument is the same: Give me a chance; what do you have to lose? As if you should just date every man who messages you because he asked you to. As if you’d have time for all those dates plus work and food.
But the men I end up dating often drink the same Kool Aid. I once had a date with a man who slept over without asking. Manspreading across my double bed, he snored while I ate my beef jerky, sitting on the corner, waiting for morning to come. When the light started beaming through my window, I typed louder to wake him home. He opened his eyes good morning, kissed my cheek, and said, “I like your hair down. You will wear it like that when I come over from now on.” I think I must look like a blank page.
It’s also possible that female insects and spiders cannibalize the males because they are bad choices for a mate. They might not have jobs, they drink PBR all day, and maybe they never got rid of their Tinder account. Women stand around their webs and talk about how to trap a man in the web he weaves, while other spiders chant: Leave him! Eat him! dancing and spinning.
It’s hard to know what a good relationship looks like. I’ve never seen one. My father broke things, beat my little brother and my mother. I grew up watching my mother use makeup to cover ink-blue bruises. I used to say I was only spanked and hit with a belt, but I now see that this is minimizing. A broken table. Spilled soup. My mother crying. I was put to bed but I could still hear them arguing. Sometimes I would sneak to the top of the stairs to watch him hit her. This is what I first learned about love.
Her other marriages weren’t much better. The chef that snuck in my room, the divorce lawyer who told us both not to bother with college, the retired garbage man who got piss drunk and banged the bedroom door until he got in. There was always a domestic disturbance. Her last husband called the cops on her when she threw a frying pan at his head. She spent six weeks in rehab. A few years later, the doctors told him to stop drinking or he’d die. She spent a year pulling hidden vodka bottles out of empty fish stick boxes before she left. To her, this was love.
My benchmark for abuse was what my mother went through. Anything short of bruises felt acceptable to me. I had nothing good to compare my relationships to. This was something I thought a lot about when I decided to leave my ex. I worried what my kids had internalized. I think of this when I reject sexist Tinder Dudes, ghost dick pic DMs, block married men who won’t stop texting. When I write #MeToo. It’s why I’m not moving toward marriage, not bound or committed. I don’t want anyone’s words in my head until mine are so loud they’ll never be drowned again.
While there’s no conclusive evidence, some argue that females eat their potential mates before the date starts because they don’t understand that these possible mates are just trying to court them, that they’re good guys really, if they would only give the mates a chance. Not all spiders, you know? They argue women are confused, not that they are pissed and aggressive or hungry for an enrichment of self and progeny. Not instead that they know exactly why they eat thorax for lunch. That this has made them all stronger.
Heather Dorn has a cat and eats tacos at least three times a week. Her poetry, fiction, and art has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Paterson Literary Review, Ragazine, Requited, Shrew, and similar publications.