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Suzanne Langlois

Leda Speaks to the Steubenville Rape Victim

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Welcome to your immortality, you poor broken thing.
You’ll be remembered forever—
the girl who was raped by football players.
I know what it is to be defined by what was done to you.
No one says Leda without adding and the swan,
3000 years later, there’s not one painting of me
that doesn’t have feathers in it.

It might have been a relief for us not to know,
to have the terrifying emptiness in our memories left blank,
but they’re always too proud
of the beautiful things they’ve broken to keep silent.
Zeus proclaimed his conquest with
a constellation of shame hung over my head.
Looking up at the night sky still makes me want
to split open my own contaminated skin
and step out of it like a soiled garment.

Meanwhile, people who think they know our stories
better than we do paint us compliant, even welcoming,
the only naked creatures on the canvas,
while giving our attackers the white wingspans of angels.
These artists have never worn a necklace of bruises at their throats
where someone tried to choke the no out of them—
never had their hands shackled by the lust of a man
choosing to act like an animal.
How else could they say we asked for this—
to be dragged into infamy by our limp and unconsenting limbs?

In one painting, I am shown stroking Zeus’s swan-long neck
as his beak clamps my bare breast.
In another, it penetrates the space between my mortified thighs.
That’s the one they pass around for laughs.
These voyeurs lean into the screen,
hold the page close to their faces,
as though proximity were the same as intimacy,
as though intimacy were something they could steal.

Now, we are cautionary tales,
teaching other girls helpful lessons like
don’t bathe where there are swans.
Don’t do what all your friends are doing
on a Saturday night in a bored little town in Ohio.
Don’t expect some god to protect you.
See where my god’s mercy left me?
I have yet to meet a deity who didn’t demand a maiden sacrifice—
who didn’t believe it was his right.
How well we know the futility of asking that the powerful
be punished for taking what doesn’t belong to them.

Beautiful girl, you do not belong to them.
So come with me, down to the water.
Let me stand guard while you wash the filth from your innocent skin,
pick the letters of your name from the muck,
rearrange them from a curse into a prayer you can wear
like a cloak around your blameless shoulders.
May you be remembered for more than what was done to you.

You are more than what was done to you.

Sister’s Slippers

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I understand why Cinderella’s sisters
kept her in cinders and rags.
They knew that her youth made them shrewish
and at all cost would keep her from the ball.
They knew she outshone them all.

The carriage is incongruous
stopped outside the cottage.
Fingers worry the dirty curtains,
signing pick me, pick me.
Each sister hopes it will be she who is carried away.
The older girls are shocked stupid
when their sister’s uncalloused foot slips into the shoe
and the prince plucks her from their midst.
The bud is more enticing than the bloom.

I, too, would keen and screech
and throw myself down a well
rather than play old maid to the young queen,
forever telling her story—my bitter inheritance.

My little sister has left Alaska,
fleeing a man who would have kept her
through the dark December in a plywood box—
his own secret bulb of beauty.

Now he has left the cold shack empty,
harnessed the dogs, packed the sled
with dried meat, furs, and the muk luks
he made for her from the caribou hide he scraped and cured,
lined with the rabbit fur he stripped
from the bleating creature in the trap.

He urges the dogs south;
they surge over the tundra
like a many legged caterpillar.
When the dogs stop, he holds their paws in his bare hands
and with frozen fingers, breaks the ice
that packs the spaces between their pads.

Cinderella let the prince handle her foot with the same care
as he slipped her toes into the glass slipper.
Glass and ermine are children of the same German word.
So actually, she pushed her foot into fur,
as will my own budding sibling
when her lover arrives with his wooden carriage,
the dogs steaming with the effort of their long run.

I would cut off my heel to be her.

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