By Katherine Perry
after walking down the aisle
and having my father give me away
to a man who changed my name
and insisted that I was his:
no one else should look at me
and demanded I report back to him every male person I saw every day
and I must have sex any time he wanted
but I shouldn’t want sex:
that would be a sin
pray about it here, on your knees,
ask God for forgiveness for your terrible sins
my body became his
This was 1988.
I was turning 19, and he wanted me pregnant
to carry his babies
but I was scared of him
of having a girl child
so I took birth control pills in secret, prescribed by my female obgyn.
I was scared of him
so I broke away by pushing off the couch
with the full force of my thighs,
knocking him into the fireplace,
and this freed me from his arm’s latch,
and I ran to my car, getting away just in time
and my step-mother said go back to him:
Ephesians 5:22-23: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands
as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife
as Christ is the head of the church, his body,
of which he is the Savior.
and my father said, yeah. You better.
so I did.
And the next time, when my husband hid my car keys,
I ran to our neighbor,
and asked for help
and he sent me back too.
It was spring
before a female coworker said to me:
this isn’t right
go to college
and I asked my mom to help me
and she put her body between us,
so that I could pack my clothes and jewelry,
everything I owned into one Toyota car trunk:
thirteen inch Sony
one hardback chair
three expensive pots and pans
and a set of good china.
When I left, he screamed after me, “If I can’t have you, no one will.”
and I was afraid he would show up at work threatening
and everyone would know
so I said I had abandoned my husband
because I was afraid.
Finally, I drove out of town and to college, in terror that he might chase me
so I paid for the divorce so that he would let me go without killing me.
I was 19.
I paid him monthly until the lease ran out.
I paid him my reputation.
I let everyone believe
I jilted him.
I told no one that he raped me.
I told no one that I was afraid to be alone with the man I married.
Instead, I paid him with my hometown:
the water and the twinkling lights on Mobile Bay on long, fall nights.
Spanish moss and seafood, the catching of fish and shrimp,
magnolia-tree leaves and wisteria-blossomed world
of my childhood with white-sand beaches.
I paid him with my gods.
I paid him with my belief in good.
I paid him with my entire family
who I never told.
I unfolded bill after bill of my life and gave it over to him
because I told no one. And to survive, I needed to get away,
to learn to live on my own, without fear.
I told no one, because so few would listen,
Katherine D. Perry is an Associate Professor of English at Perimeter College of Georgia State University. Some of her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Dead Mule of Southern Literature, Eco-Chick, Poetry Quarterly, Melusine, Southern Women’s Review, Bloodroot, Borderlands, Women’s Studies, RiverSedge, Rio Grande Review, and 13th Moon. She works in Georgia prisons to bring literature and poetry to incarcerated students and is currently building a prison initiative with Georgia State University to bring college courses into Georgia state prisons. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse and two children