For Maggie Estep
By Caroline Rothstein

You were the voice that whispered to me through the saturated night. You told me to take myself into the abyss and carry my heart with a sledgehammer. You said this was the kind of faith on which bridges have been built, steady enough to connect two missing pieces torn apart by water’s fleshy bones and steel toed boots. You ushered me into dawn with the tranquility of a child feasting on a mother’s womb, growing with the translucent notion that something magnificent must be on the other side of the portal. You beaconed me over with a thousand sun salutations, one for each paper crane folded into a peaceful saint of certainty. You said it could potentially hurt – just a little on most days, most likely too much on others. You said to clench my fists through the latter – let only my tongue exercise its anger through the barrel of an inkwell. You said this is the legacy. You said this is how you kill a feasting chicken gnawing at its own feathers. You said cut it out, young lady, and let go of the razor blade. You told me it didn’t have a place to be properly sharpened, so why waste time by dulling it on the surface of my skin?

Trigger Warning
By Caroline Rothstein

There is something poignantly pervasive about laying post coital with a man and telling him the story of your rape. After he asks, you will say it’s ok, that you do this for a living; you tell strangers your story. What’s telling a close friend who has consensually been inside you the story of the man who had not been welcome in the same space? Or the story of the other man who held you down and fondled your chest unsolicited? Repeatedly. Him too. And you will lay there post coital and you will tell him of these trials. You will lay on your stomach, elbows harnessed for support, hands reaching for your pillow, his eyes so honest, the way his mouth caressed the inside of your solstice and you shed tears down your cheeks because he spoke – with only his tongue – a language of something so pure you didn’t quite know how else to continue living with that kind of delicate respect. How his tongue touched what could have been a war torn battlefield but instead became a budding rose. How he told you it was beautiful. How he wasn’t the first one to say so. Though you didn’t need either of them to tell you because you don’t need a visitor to tell you how comfortable it is to live inside your own home. And as you lay there post coital and you tell him of these horrors, he will rub your back, and you will say, see, that is what you cannot do – too much for me to tell you of the one who pinned me to my bedroom carpet and held my chest while you rub my back. And he’ll pull away his hand and you’ll say, but you can leave your hand on my back, still, and so he will. And with his eyes, he will listen to your chest, honor that which beats beneath your breast. And you will wonder who taught the other men to do anything but listen to your tongue. How when it caressed the air with a fragrant stench of halt, neither chose to listen with their eyes. Who taught them to keep from pulling away their hands?

To the poet who said, “I want to make love to a raped woman”
By Caroline Rothstein

ride with me
up the elevator of
my college dormitory high-rise building

take your shoes off
say you don’t have a condom
ignore my answer

wait until I’ve blacked out
then, come inside

trample mud into
my luscious pink, red, and crimson
leave footprints
of soiled musk and rotten kindling
to catch fire

I am not a commodity

you cannot pluck me frozen
from a supermarket aisle
thaw me back to virgin
and receive a purple heart
for parachuting into my crotch

you cannot pick up
“Rape Victim” magazine
and store centerfold
Miss Back Alley into
your spank bank

making love to a woman
who was raped
does not make you sensitive
or courageous

your fetish makes you Gestapo
separates me
from the rest of the herd

my vagina
in a ghetto
womb ruptured

you cannot
tattoo victim
to my body

a yellow star
on my shoulder
like a race
or gender

like it was something
I was born with

like a rapist will

seek your
next victim:
in a bar
on Craiglist
the Congo
Juarez, Mexico

have your pick

make believe the darkest moments of my nightmares
are sexy and tranquil

but my pain is not
a romantic backdrop to borrow

you say you want to make love
to a woman who was raped?

carry a rape kit next to your stash of condoms

come inside
take your shoes off

Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer, body empowerment advocate, and educator. She has been performing poetry and facilitating workshops at colleges, schools and performance venues around the United States for more than a decade. She hosts the YouTube series Body Empowerment and is President of the Board of Directors for Mental Fitness Inc., a national mental health and youth education nonprofit. Caroline was a member of the 2010 Nuyorican Poets Cafe slam team, which placed second at the National Poetry Slam Finals, and is a youth Mentor at Urban Word NYC. Her work has appeared in Narratively, The Jewish Daily Forward, xoJane, Huffington Post, Poetica Magazine and elsewhere. She has a B.A. in classical studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.