On such occasions
one comes to know someone spectacularly fast.
Even with your unfriendly arm at my throat
you could hide nothing from me.
Your failures with women, for instance,
filed through my mind.
And I knew your father was hostile to doors.
He liked to slam them or break them down.
Your mother worked her way up from dimestore
to drugstore. Even in her grave
her hopes kept shrinking.
Now she’s thin as a spindle.
I even knew without looking
your socks had red diamonds
like a small town boy’s. In fact,
with my breath stopped in my throat
your whole life flashed past my eyes,
but I didn’t let on.
“I can’t breathe;’ I gasped,
and you loosened your hold.
I suppose I should have been grateful,
instead I felt impatient with men,
with their small favors.
I suppose you felt the same about me.
You’d no sooner reached through my torn blouse
when my screams made you bolt.
We leapt from each other
like two hares released from a trap. Oh, oh,
something’s not right between men and women.
Perhaps we talked too much,
or did we leave too much unsaid?
When you ripped my shirt mumbling
“I don’t want to hurt you,”
I replied, “That’s what they all say.”
I’ll admit I was glib if you’ll admit
you were insensitive. Look,
the world is brimming with happy couples,
benign marriages, with men and women
who’ve adjusted to each other’s defects.
Couldn’t we adjust to each other’s defects?
I’ll begin by trying harder not to forget you,
to remember more clearly
your approximate height, your brown shirt
which I described to the police.
Our encounter must stand out in our minds,
distinct from all others.
I never intended
all this to become blurred in my memory,
to confuse you with other men.
Suzanne Lummis is a California poet and an award-winning playwright. She teaches at the Autry Museum of the American West and in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and for the past several years has directed the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. “Letter to My Assailant” is from her collection In Danger published by Heyday Books and is reprinted by permission. The author’s photo was taken by Penelope Torribio.