AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE WHERE SAFETY IS SOMETHING I GET TO KEEP
The boy does not grab my ass
with shark teeth hands as I walk to class.
I am in second grade. Just a girl,
untouched. He waves, offers a smile and
fear does not hug the roof of my mouth.
I get to keep safety in the pocket of my cardigan.
In social studies I do not get called
into the counselor’s office where eyes
bore into me a guilty verdict. He does not tell me
I have to go home, have to change my shirt. My body is
not deemed inappropriate. I am not banned for
the space my chest takes up.
Standing in his unlit kitchen he does not
ignore my lips when they say,
“I don’t want to do this.” When I pull his trespassing hand
out of my jeans he does not force it back down. He does not prefer
my silence over the crowd of his own voice. He tells me
I am remarkable, offers to drive me home, opens the
passenger door with gentle palms, kisses me
on the front porch. When he leaves, I climb into
bed with safety and I dream of beautiful things.
I sit on a barstool snug in a little black dress
and it does not mean consent. Men do not offer
me mock drinks of hope with the intention
of taking what I did not offer. I keep my confidence
and shame does not get an invitation. I am safe.
I am on the phone with a publisher who makes corrupt
promises to poets. My wrists excited and eager as I grip the phone
like a prayer. He does not use my ear as a place
to build his ego, does not take advantage
of my wanting dreams, does not send the dick pic.
We only discuss my art, and I am safe.
My boss does not take my arm and pull me
into the stock room closet sick with palpable danger.
He does not look at me with
counterfeit eyes of sincerity and tell me
I’d be so much prettier if I lost some weight. Instead
the only line he crosses is the one on the way
to my desk to tell me he’s impressed by my hard work.
At a party on campus where the air is thick with thirst
and wild lust, my friend, Andrew, does not leave me.
After the beers and shots of Fireball have coaxed
my limbs to soften, he holds my hand, calls me
a cab. I do not pass out in an empty guest room
and wake up to a bed with strange and hungry hands.
Here I do not have to stitch the word mine
across my neck, forget the aftertaste of
anxiety from the pepper spray pressed
in my small palm. My teeth release the grip
of my pink tongue. Here my voice carries
bite. Women no longer drink rainwater from
wine glasses served by trespassing hands. Safety hangs
like traffic lights where men no longer see green
when they look at you. Men take the time to learn
the language of a woman, offer up worship, jars for our tears,
a soft place to land if you need it. Here we are not
hanging apples. We are the trunk. We wear red lips
and it is not an alarm for promiscuity. We are given space
to take up, an untamed kingdom of girls.
We are safe here. We get to keep our safety.
—from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Raquel Franco: “I wish I truly knew what this alternate universe looked like or felt like, a world where women were not objectified and made to feel small. I don’t think men realize that even the smallest of acts can shrink us. I hope this piece sheds a light on the world we are in and maybe how it can change.” (web)