Ghosts in the water

CW: Sexual assault, trauma

I’ve been working on this a while. Poetry doesn’t come as easily to me at 47 as it did at 17. It requires down time and time to think, things I have almost none of these days.

I’m working on that, too.


The other morning, I told my 9-year-old I was raped.
I hadn’t meant to; it slipped out
as I was explaining why the dirty dishes upset me.
It’s not the messy counter, I said,
but that his trailer was alive with roaches.
They meandered along the walls and the ceiling
while he ripped away the last of my innocence.
I remember clearly watching one crawling directly above us,
hoping it didn’t drop as I was trapped beneath him,
because that small weight just might break me.

He refused to wash dishes, I told her.
Every flat surface was covered in used plates, cups,
forks and knives, sticky with ketchup smears
and soda residue. He would use the same cup for a week,
then rinse it out and use it for one more.
The dishwasher was broken,
so I would fill the sink with scalding, sudsy water
and gummy, crusty, reeking dishes,
in hopes that he would rinse them off later.

Days later, in defeat, I would pull on rubber gloves,
plunge my hands into the icy, slimy water,
fish out the dishes, and scrub them clean.
At the bottom of the sink
were handfuls of drowned roaches.
Decades have passed, I told her, but the smell of dirty dishes,
the feel of cold dishwater against my gloved hands,
brings feelings long since buried swirling to the surface,
like those soggy roach corpses in the sink.

A few days after our talk, a book appeared on my office chair.
Folded between its pages was a drawing:
“The man who raped my mom”
(I refused to speak his name)
bleeding profusely from the head,
while my fiercely loving baby girl
glared at him with red-rage eyes.

I haven’t mentioned it to her.
I don’t really know what to say.
I don’t need vengeance; not after all these years.
I don’t need you to hate him.
I don’t, not anymore.
Rage burns at both ends.

I just need you to do the dishes.

3 thoughts on “Ghosts in the water

  1. Really powerful and sad. I’m so sorry. It is amazing what a person can get through and what tiny little sensory details can take us right back. My fifth-graders just had their puberty talk at school, and this age is sure full of minefields. I love the rage your daughter expressed on your behalf, in her own way, through art. If only we all had as good coping skills!

    Liked by 1 person

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