Prompt: (Taken from Natalie Diaz.): Read or reread the story of Persephone and Demeter. Write a poem describing a parent or other family member’s grief. Then, write it as a myth. What happens to the earth, the weather, the sky? How does the landscape physically change?
For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.
Debbie Yee asks, Cathy, Are there real or virtual spaces you go to for research? What or where are they? What do they inform you?
Cathy Linh Che answers,
Thanks, Debbie, for the question! My answer is roundabout, but I do get around to it. Here it goes:
Like Paul Tran, and so many others, I was sexually molested as a child—and have felt the ripple effects into adulthood.
I write about my experiences because I’m uneasy with the silence. I’m uneasy with the abject and unfathomable horror surrounding the topic—as if sexual molestation is not something that happens to one in three girls and one in seven boys. At a table with ten folks, several people have been sexually violated at some point in their lives (whether we identify as victims, survivors, or something else), or are perpetrators. So, it’s not ‘unimaginable’—it’s lived experiences that we all share.
When I have a concept or an image I want to explore, I look up definitions and etymologies on the internet. I do Google images searches. I turn to different mythologies and origin stories. I buy books and read up on psychology and psychoanalysis. I go home and inhabit spaces where these incidences have taken place. I look at personal experiences again and again—after all “research” is about looking closely and looking repeatedly.
Type in the word rape into the Online Etymology Dictionary and you get:
late 14c., “seize prey; abduct, take by force,” from rape (n.) and from Anglo-French raper (Old French rapir)
When I learned that rape originally meant to abduct, or to carry off by force, I thought of the myth of Persephone in a new way.
I saw her abduction, then being carried off into Hades, as a kind of childhood rape story—and from there, I wrote.
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in information about support services as a sexual assault survivor, please visit RAINN.
I open my chest and birds flock out.
In my mother’s garden, the roses flare
toward the sun, but I am an arrow
I am Persephone,
a virgin abducted.
In the Underworld,
I starve a season
while the world wilts
into the ghost
of a summer backyard.
My hunger open and raw.
I lay next to a man
who did not love me—
my body a performance,
his body a single eye—
a director watching an actress
I was the clumsy acrobat.
When he came, I split open
like a pomegranate
and ate six of my own ruddy seeds.
I was the whipping boy.
Thorny, barbed wire
wound around a muscular heart.
Originally published in Split (Alice James Books, 2014)
Kundiman fellow, Cathy Linh Che, is featured on the NPM Daily blog.
Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She has been awarded fellowships from Poets & Writers, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Residency. She currently lives in Brooklyn.