poetry

In the Wilderness. {poetry}

 

In the age of #MeToo and the recent news coverage of sexual predation in the era and social world that I came of age in, I have felt a complex mix of emotions:
What right have I to speak of my own experience as a young woman when nothing outwardly traumatic happened to me?
How can I still honor the pain I carried for years around sexuality, the feeling of being inadequate in my difference and reluctance — feelings which persisted even as I saw that my habit of retreat protected me from damaging experiences I am grateful to have avoided?

Recently I have come to grasp that however shy and self-contained I appeared as a young (and not-so-young) woman, my instinctive commitment to my own bodily and spiritual integrity was something as fierce and wild as the outward daring I saw in others.

Escape too can be a rebellion, and it carries its own cost. And I have come to realize that, whatever happened or did not happen to us as young women in the past or now, what unites us and what needs to be held tenderly is the fact of our shared vulnerability and desire and power. There is a sacredness within us that we need to celebrate, fight for, and heal.

In the Wilderness

1980: at the party
at the mostly men’s college
near my women’s college
I summoned all my nerve
and asked a man to dance
He and his buddies
laughed, they laughed
sharp boozy barks in the night
I felt like a hooded child
in the wilderness
who’d thought she could entreat wolves

I have never forgotten this
little as it was:
the shame, and in the air
a hot whiff of danger
something running in the dark
that I saw could catch me

You need to understand
I had never been touched
I dreamed of being touched
I could scarcely imagine it
I dreamed of being loved
I would not be touched for years
and even later when I was
I saw how I went still and numb
from terror somehow
or helplessness, or a need
to wrap myself around something
I wanted to save

I remember another party
where a man invited me outside
to see his Camaro
I looked and then ran off

And I remember slinking up
my dorm stairs backwards
trying to pull away
from something another wanted

For so many years
I judged myself:
frightened, weak, a failure
Why couldn’t I ever do
what I thought women did with ease?

But now I understand
a different wildness was in me
a being without a language
it would do what it took
to escape from the trap
chew off a limb if needed
to be free, alone, with all
of what mattered still whole

How fragile the girl in the wild
the young woman
hunted on all sides
and barely realizing it
everything she longs for
a scent they can follow

My fear protected me
a thick woven cloak
I was a lucky one
so much torn from a laugh only
but after all I was spared

Breathing in, I feel my pain
Breathing out, I release it

Breathing in, I feel the pain
of all of us, these young girls
long ago or today
long ago and still within us
how vulnerable inside
how much we wanted
to be fully ourselves
shining and free
and also to be loved

Breathing out, I send us love,
strength, forgiveness, peace
may we see our goodness
may we claim the wild
power of ourselves
may we be home in the world
may we be whole.

***

Born and raised in New York, Anne Myles is a college English professor who lives in Iowa. Originally trained in poetry, she lost touch with her creative voice for decades until everything she thought was enough collapsed in 2016 and she realized she had to find it again to survive. Within a month after beginning regular meditation in 2018, she unexpectedly began writing poetry again and hasn’t stopped; the two practices have changed everything. Since the summer, her work has begun to appear in a number of publications, and she is hoping to begin a low-residency MFA program within the next year, among other radical midlife changes. Besides literature and writing, she is passionate about her animal family, nature, therapy, old houses, travel, coffee, and very dark chocolate. She is still full of longing for most of what she wanted at 18.

***

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