Jeanne Wagner

What I Would Tell the Man Who Wanted to Rape Me If I Saw Him Again

I would tell him I told the officer you didn’t rape me. Because I was awake that morning before six. Because I was dressed for work. For the world. For the first day of a new job. Because our house hung down the side of a hill so I could hear your boots pounding on the ceiling. Your soles scraping the tarpaper shingles. Shingles that covered the roof-bones of our house. They were cracking, the shingles. Were brittle with age. Some of them already slipping. The way things do. I’d read an article called The Local Rapist. It said you liked your victims old. In their fifties, at least. Liked to catch them in bed. So you could rip into the silken privacy of their sleep. That delicate web of dream-cloth, sheer as a negligee. Which comes from the French word for neglect. As in carelessness. As in something falling open. Were you neglected? Were you looking for what we call closure? Because after you raped them, you wanted to talk. Sometimes you raped them again. Rape is the most intimate of wounds. An inside job. So I ran out the door, into the open air. Just in time to see you leap off the roof. Make an animal-dash up the driveway. Its early morning emptiness. I told the police how I chased you. How you kept on running. So I could only see the back of you. Your black leather jacket. Tough as any integument. An insect’s shell. I made a note of your sleek black hair. The way it smothered your scalp. Hid your skull. Which must have been made of bone. Like mine. I remember how daylight exposed you. Exposes us all. The way you ran. That you were a small man. That I needed to see your face in the light. To memorize you so I’d know how to forget.

When My Boss Said I Can See You’ve Been Around the Block a Few Times

He must have meant those first small
journeys I took as a child
when I was afraid I was going too far
but believed you can never go too far
if it’s a circle.
Even as I cycled past the buzz-cut privets
and the barbed-wire fences, past the yard
with the blue-eyed dog
who bit me on the nose when I bent down
to kiss him, past the Hurt house
where Tommy waved his thing out the window
when the girls walked by,
and years later and a few doors down,
where the O’Connor brothers, on nights off
from the firehouse,
invited the neighborhood girls in to play
the Pirate Game,
grabbing them from behind
and squeezing their small breasts
to make a sunken chest.
I was proud it was a game
I had just enough breast to play.
This was the block where I slept outside
on summer nights,
sneaking out of the yard in my babydolls
to steal the neighbor’s plums.
The kind of girl who learned to keep going,
whatever the cost,
then to circle back again.

JEANNE WAGNER is the author of four chapbooks and three full-length collections: The Zen Piano-mover, which won the NFSPS Poetry Prize, In the Body of Our Lives, published by Sixteen Rivers Press, and most recently, Everything Turns Into Something Else, published in 2020 as runner-up for the Grayson Book Prize. She is the winner of the 2021 Joy Harjo Award and the 2022 Cloudbank Poetry Prize, among others. Her work has appeared in North American Review, Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and The Southern Review.

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