It was spring in Indiana when that man raped
the gray-haired lady who went to worship
with us. The one who wore purple skirts
and sturdy tan shoes like loaves of day old bread
my father brought home for us. The man snuck
into her house, tied her with a phone cord, raped her
while her dog howled in the bathroom-trapped,
waterless and scared. For days my parents
whispered over dinner boiling on the stove
and by the next week we all felt the icy current
of my mother’s fear wash over us when I left
the door unlocked on my way to the bus,
her alone inside. But by the end of May the woman
was back in her pew, an unshakable Quaker,
firm in the belief that silence heals everything.
I examined her for bruises she hid in floppy sweaters,
until summer came and melted the victim from her skin,
exposing the remains of his fingers still smudged on her
like a painter’s thumb on the back of the canvas.
It was the same year they took our fingers to ink,
smeared them on blue note cards, marked
with our name and picture. Placed them in files
meant to save us. It was after that little boy
vanished. The one my mother dreamt of finding
stuck in a clothes rack at J.C. Penney,
or buried beneath the tomatoes in the grocery aisle,
still breathing. The boy looked a lot like me,
blond hair, blue eyes, when they found him
in that cornfield, his anus bloodied, his nails full
of earth. But my parents believed in fingerprints,
in their ability to keep me from disappearing
into the hands of men who can’t control
their fascination with the way color leaves
the body. Men I’d take to bed, years later,
my feet bound in their neckties, scarves, handcuffs.
In school that fall, Mr. Brock nervously taught the boys
“reproductionâ€ like a cold science, as if he knew
some of us would become monsters. Our desires
lurking in our groins like a disease we might succumb to.
Our blue plastic chairs scooted across the hardwood
floor of the gymnasium as the girls sat Indian style
across the hall in the dimmed cafeteria, watching a film
on the mysteries of bloody panties and sore chests.
The boys got diagrams: blueprints of bodies
meant only to produce bald, screaming babies each time
our middles touched a girl’s. Mine never did.
By October the rapist was caught. His mustache and beady
eyes on the front page of every Midwest newspaper:
six counts of rape, four of first-degree murder. She’s lucky,
my parents spoke in voices loud enough to hear,
but I knew better. Knew she must have his baby growing
inside her, but hoped it would stay forever trapped in her belly
like her dog in the bathroom on that spring night, or her
throat in his hands, the color rushing from her face.