The way to refuse to do something one is not obligated to do is to gracefully refuse.
Richard E. Cytowic, M.D. “No Is a Complete Sentence.” Psychology Today Online, 9 April 2012
But consent is more than the absence of no. It is the possibility of a real yes. It is the presence of human agency. It is the horizon of desire.
Laurie Penny, “The Horizon of Desire.” Longreads, September 2017
Things I am not obligated to do:
stroke an ego
stroke a penis
stroke the side of my face when struck.
Refusal is rarely graceful
(and yet it exists).
Let us leave “graceful”
for a murmuration of starlings,
for their choreographed flight.
Let us say instead: the way
to refuse to do something
one is not obligated to do
is to re•fuse.
–tr. 1a. To indicate unwillingness to do, accept, give, or allow.
I am unwilling to do
so many things:
I am unwilling to yield
to roll over
to be graceful in my refusal
to let you enter my body without invitation.
And because of this,
because I have had to be unwilling and unwilling
and unwilling, because I have perfected
unwillingness, I have become unwilling,
too, to disarm and stride out
towards the horizon –
to open the last door
I am unwilling to cut my flesh
where somebody might see it
but god how I long for you to put your mouth
to that wound.
So I am willing myself
to be less unwilling.
I am willing myself
to untie my own wrists.
And what would that look like?
To come to you unbound
by any obligation but my own desire?
What would it feel like
to feed myself first, to place
the most tender piece of meat
on my own plate and fill myself?
Years of no have stuffed my mouth,
gag of fear,
swollen tongue of refusal,
I have starved myself
rather than risk poison until
has become a foreign language.
No – a forgotten one.
A language unlearned.
So let me run my hand
over the Braille of your body,
help me re-learn the grammar
intr.v. 1. To give assent, as to the proposal of another; agree. 2. To be of the same mind or opinion.
I am of the opinion
that we should say yes
and yes and yes.
- n. 1. Acceptance or approval of what is planned or done by another; acquiescence. 2. Agreement as to opinion or a course of action.
Let us put our hands
on one another.
Let this be graceful.
Let us agree,
not just once,
but now and now and now and in
the constant now
to this course of action.
as in active,
as in verb,
as in agency,
as in choice,
as in v. 1. grant (yes), permit (yes), agree (yes), allow (yes), admit (yes), approve (yes); accept (yes), go along with (yes).
(yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes)
not a not-no,
not a moment laced with the bitterroot of 2. yield, acquiesce, concede, give in, submit; obey, comply with, abide by, defer to, conform to,
Yes and yes and yes each breath yes.
Deeply Troubled Women Are Always
the best in bed, as long as they’re not tiling the floor
with chicken bones and giblets, as long as they’re not
sharpening knives on the whetstone
of their tongues and memorizing charms,
writing your name in blood. You’ve got to treat ‘em
like shit to keep that magic down,
keep that power underground, keep them
from raising their dead.
Make sure they get dinner on the table, otherwise
they’ll be brewing up potions in the tea-kettle instead,
boiling fingernail clippings and stray hairs,
enchanting the straight pins
and perfecting their aim.
Shaving their heads, letting their mascara
raccoon their eyes, taking a baseball bat
to the glass box of their lives. Troubled
just another way of saying troubling,
another way of saying standing up straight
and untying their hair, unknotting their lips,
just another way of speaking the truth.
Madness just another way of not dressing
like a woman, of riding power
like a horse.
Can’t have that.
You’ve got to make the bathing suits smaller and the heels
higher. Keep ‘em practicing their balance
and worrying about their waists so they don’t remember
the first meaning of stiletto,
don’t trace that word on your back
while muttering chants under a moon full like a pearl.
no jewels. Nothing negotiable.
Nothing portable besides the clothes
on their backs.
Deeply troubled women are always
good on their backs
but prone to ranting after midnight, prone to eating
with their hands and shining their cheeks with grease.
Prone to not giving enough of a damn.
Minor details. If they’ve got the height,
the looks, the skin, you can overlook
a little crazy
in the short term.
You wouldn’t want to stay with them for long, though.
Hard to keep that crazy-woman magic down underground
every day. Deeply troubled just another way
of saying more power than you know how to douse.
Nasty. Nasty, all that power coming out of their eyes,
coming out of their whatever.
“Deeply Troubled Women Are Always” employs language from a variety of quotes by Donald J. Trump. Source material for some of the language used in “Deeply Troubled Women Are Always”:
Jennifer Saunders has work published or forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, UCity Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and in the winters she teaches skating in a hockey school and drives her hockey-playing sons to many, many hockey rinks.