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"Letter to My Assailant," by Suzanne Lummis

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.

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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.

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Comments
2

Wow, what a painful and powerful poem. Thank you for printing this.

Dec. 20, 2010

epic emotional dissection and release

March 23, 2011

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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