an open letter to hannah wilke – stephanie hempel

Matt Clifford - Photo Credit Matt Diss ALOC Media

Dear Hannah,

The moon is exactly half carved of your belly, your hair is now exhausted, and your mass is so madly and how did you meet the person who lives under your flesh? The pale and ripe body that births the gesture through the exoskeleton? You stuck gum to your naked body, shaped like a series of miniature vulvas, and I put my breasts on the scanner, cut my hair, curled it next to a knife. How can I locate this body? How else could I locate this body?

And you did, and when you did, did you let yourself have it? The museum deity? The attention from the audience as they scolded you for the hairpin curve around your nipples? The chewed-up gum, your chewed-up gum, the photographer’s chewed-up gum, saliva stuck over your face, the nape your neck, the line of your pelvis, mountain crease of your hip bones. Woman covered wholly in woman.

Who chewed the gum, Hannah? Was that your own spit? The rubbing between raw flesh and the plasticity of bubble gum. Hannah, I was in Athens when I learned the rape wasn’t my fault. I was four years old and it wasn’t my fault. I was at my uncle’s house and it wasn’t my fault. My mother told me that as a child he had also been raped, also by an uncle, also so young. I tried to make sense of this while standing in the Aegean Sea, freezing, my legs turned purple and numbed but I saw the sun reflect crystalline gold onto the pigments of my skin. I saw all the ways a baptism wouldn’t save me in this human life time.

What does it mean to inhabit, Hannah? What does it mean to inhabit the life space, among organisms, possibilities, war, triumph, gallery shows? What does it mean after you’ve passed, your line break? When he touched me, I felt like the plasticity of chewing gum, rough, burning into my flesh with venomous saliva. Since then my desire to meet death has been intimate, I always feel her neighboring through the avenue of my spinal column which is all marble, all marble since age four, no more bone, no more bone.

When language doesn’t work, we turn to the body, Hannah. Language never worked for the men in my life. It only worked for me by default. Something had to work, something had to work for survival, a poesis of working.

-SOS Series, “if you look at them as gum, you’re always gonna look at them as gum but if you look at them as a metaphor, you can see what she was doing, she said the reason I use gum is because this is what men do to women, they take them in, they chew them up, and they spit them out…she knew herself, she knew how she looked, she knew what she wanted.”

and what if I do not know how I look? What if I’m merely 8 trillion sliced atoms of color plastered against a wall? What if I am non-locatable? Hannah, what do I do? Hannah, what do I do?
Hannah, what do I do?
Hannah, what do I do?
Hannah, what do I do?
Hannah, what do I do, then?

Sincerely yours beyond death-


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Stephanie Hempel is an MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She is a multi-genre writer, editor, and performance artist. Her writing and art have been published in Saudade Magazine, Guttural Magazine, Osier Root Collective, and Apricity. She is the Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the literary magazine, Tiny Spoon. Visit tinyspoon.org for more information about the journal.

Cover art: Charles Deluvio

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Best of 2019

South Broadway Ghost Society’s favorite pieces of 2019.

hungry ghosts

Hungry Ghosts :: Chris Moore

“Hungry Ghosts” by Chris Moore defies being put in any box of genre. Ranging from poetry to storytelling to essay to letters, Moore’s piece is maybe best described as the field notes of a breakup.

SOUP-BILLIEEILISH

Ten Macros From ‘The Depressed Barbie Series’ :: Alexandra Naughton

Alexandra Naughton’s meme collection range a series of borderline shower thoughts that you didn’t know you needed to hear until you read them. 

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Three Poems :: Sam Pink

In less than 100 words overall, these three poems by Sam Pink find insight in strangely mundane places, leaving you per his instruction, in his cartoon.

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Five Poems :: Lana Bella

These five poems, stationed as days of the week, show a dark sense of intimacy with captured moments.

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On Bones :: Shelby Yaffe

This poem paints a beautiful story in three parts, all of which revolve around something very dear to us, bones.

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Challenger :: Corwin Moore

“In eighth grade I became an addict,” begins Moore’s story, “I was addicted to masturbating and porno.” This beautiful memoir-esque piece goes on to explore childhood, shame and racism and other themes all alongside the story of the Challenger spacecraft.

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The Washing Machine Sang :: Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

Cannarella’s “The Washing Machine Sang” is an incredibly piece about playing pretend in other people’s lives and the stories of inanimate objects.

Related: South Broadway Ghost Society: 2018 in Review

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hungry ghosts – chris moore

hungry ghosts

How to Woo a Married Woman:

• Converse on a wide variety of topics
• Share music she’s never heard before but likes
• Be physically close
• Challenge her, without conflict
• Have similar outdoor interests
• Love nature
• Notice rocks
• Be quick-witted
• Be offbeat
• Keep your mind open
• Be intelligent
• Care about things
• Give
• Have patience with her children
• Be the keeper of more than one talent
• Be thoughtful
• Be intuitive (to a fault)
• Be sensual
• Make her laugh
• Have bright eyes

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August 2010: They say that the brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-twenties, even early thirties. Guess that means I meet her at a crucial point. Twenty-four. I tell her twenty-five; my birthday just around the corner. She’s eleven years my senior and a lesson in forced autonomy. I have her and I don’t. She asks if I see my future full of options and I say yes: multiple paths yet unknown. To be settled down is her dream and I lose myself in it.

 

Lately everything is a little bit more than it seems.  Lost in a book of a back-mountain man who builds his stasis from the wood of trees much like the ones that are burning to the ground as I speak. Maybe it’s a little bit timely, maybe it’s a little bit telling: the winds that raged that Labor Day when we trailed behind a group in the woods, crossing paths with children hunkered down under backpacks, on our way to an inlet that led you and I to our private rocks of contemplation. And tonight, we can’t even talk over the winds so I hold her against me, against the porch pillar, letting passersby revel in our puzzle pieces.

 

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Dear T,

I know I gave birth to you. You wilted with your wife and said you revived my body, the way Maria did mine. But I have seen how when a body is resurrected, a war can begin inside. These disorienting dilemmas have a way of upending lives. Your former life was a carefully set table overturned in rage. I knew our life together might meet the same end. Nevertheless, I persisted.

 

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The thought just barely creeps in. It says, we can make it outside my dreams. Her eyes are reckless windows that lead directly to her soul without passing ‘go,’ without collecting two hundred dollars; precisely why I always look away. Our very separate bodies ached together, woman who oh-so-frankly called me out on the speed with which I fell. Tempted to say: told you so or oh, how the tables have turned.

 

Valentine’s Day, 2011: I rent us a room at a quaint bed and breakfast in a mountain town, fill it to overflowing with candles, lie my guitar across the bed like a naked woman. After we have dinner I bring her there. I am shy. I sing and play for her every song that has shaken us. We consume one another the rest of the night. Blood everywhere. It’s either love or death to the housekeep in the morning. Surprised they don’t call the police. The next day, she vanishes.

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Dear T,

Who are our first lovers if not our mothers? Your disappearing act was familiar to me. You were familiar to me. You were my home insofar as you were like my mother.

Baby Duck Syndrome:

  • Absence on loop.
  • A scratched compact disc.
  • Unable to advance.
  • Insane in love.
  • Insane in war.

 

Maybe the possibility that we could heal our respective mommy-traumas is what held us together for so long. In the meantime, we loved the outdoors and creating things with our four hands.

 

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December 21, 2011: We live together now. I promised her before I moved in that I wouldn’t drink.

She strands me at a billiards bar in a suburban strip mall. She rents herself a room, over an hour into the mountains and makes her angry getaway. Her disappearing act is familiar to me. I fill my bloodstream to overflowing with beer by midnight, take a taxi home, find her reservation in her email inbox. I decide to chase her down, guitar in my backseat, and serenade her back into my arms.

A couple close calls: my passenger door and the guardrail, my sideview mirror and the median. A couple of empties thrown through my open window into the dark. A couple hundred shards of glass on the snowy highway. A couple of good samaritans. A couple 911 calls. A couple of cop cars. A couple of blows: a couple tenths of a milligram per deciliter away from a coma. A couple of hands in handcuffs. A couple of mugshots. A couple hours sobbing. A couple hours sleeping. A couple hot showers in between the couple hours of sleeping. A couple of other women cry aloud in the beds around mine. A couple bus tokens the next morning. A couple miles to walk back to our home without my socks, short-sleeved in a couple feet of snow. A couple days until Christmas, a couple dissolving.

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Dear T,

Thank you, oh and fuck you, for letting me back in a few months later. I became the third or fourth mother to your children for a second time. You’ve really gotta work on your boundaries. We were a five year love affair. Drama all the time. Maybe we were caught up in the passion we had lost. We fought about something everysingleday for two years. A zucchini flower. A credit card. Any snide remark. Any crooked look. The childrens’ bedtime. What to have for dinner. Who will cook dinner. Who appreciates who less. That thing I did two years ago. Which therapist we should hire.

 

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January 1, 2015: She says get your shit and get the fuck out by 8pm or I will call the police. My blood turns to battery acid and my eye levees burst. I get out. Downtown, center of the city, my friend Chad helps me across his street, up the stairs, into and out from the elevator, down the hall, into his open-air spare bedroom, and back again about fifteen times. I am moving out, maybe moving on, but my identity is still T and the kids. They’re everything. People often ask why a battered wife won’t leave her abuser. I understand now. It becomes the only thing of everything you know. Probably of everything you’ve known since you were a child. Familiar may not be healthy but it’s expected. Ani Difranco sings privilege is a headache that you don’t know you don’t have. Read that again. Let it sink in. I guess in my case it’s: abuse is a headache you have always had and so you didn’t know you could exist without it. And I won’t know for another two years.

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Dear T,

Fuck you for begging me back nearly six months later. And what of the in-between? The only true thing you ever said of me: you didn’t want a lover, you wanted a mother. I think you knew my weakness. Maybe you didn’t want to disassemble another household. I almost said family, you didn’t want to disassemble another family, but you’d put me on a par with your children and when one sibling moves away, the family itself doesn’t dissolve. But the household changes. Your household changed, drastically, the third time in five years. I demanded couples therapy if I were to set foot back in your house. You told me you’d do anything to make this work. Why then, in our therapist’s office, did his nearly-gaping mouth betray his neutrality? I sat tight  against the armrest, swollen eyes staring off at some object in the room. He coached you through what it would sound like to validate another human’s feelings. You kept up the questions about whether or not my particular feeling really had validity. That’s not the point. It’s not about right or wrong, feelings aren’t right or wrong. All feelings are valid because they are just that: feelings.’


val·i·date /ˈvaləˌdāt/ (verb):

  1. check or prove the validity or accuracy of (something).
  2. demonstrate or support the truth or value of.
    • synonyms: prove, give proof of, show to be true, give substance to; uphold, support, back up, bear out, justify, vindicate, substantiate, corroborate, verify, demonstrate, authenticate, confirm, endorse, give credence to, lend weight to; vouch for, attest to, testify to, stand by, bear witness to

 

It’s as though you thought that to say I hear you, meant you’d convict yourself. Of what, though? It’s the only time I ever walked out of a therapy session in my life.

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My anger is so thick I can’t cry. I go through the house reclaiming all of my belongings, again – if it fits in my car, it’s going with me. I slam the hatchback so hard on this part of my life that it echoes through the cul-de-sacs. I slam my car door just as hard. The dead bird in the bush comes back to life, my hampered voice fills my mouth again, the first time since thirteen. This is it: the moment where I take up all of my pain and resentment. Like so many knick-knacks from my past, I hurl the abandonment and invisibility into my literal and metaphorical car and get the fuck out because dammit I deserve better.

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Chris Moore is an elementary school teacher and poet-turned-essayist, residing in the Denver Metro area. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction in the Mile High MFA Program at Regis University. Her work has been featured in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology, Naropa’s 2019 Vagina Monologues Zine, and Allegory Ridge Magazine.

12/15/09 – jen kolic

jen kolic

I broke into your house not knowing what I was looking for. You, maybe.

Instead there’s an overturned stroller in the living room. Piles of clothes that must be yours. Empty picture frames like open mouths. Your mother’s dishes.

You’re dead, and I’m dying.

Through every window you watch me from the dark porch, waiting for me to say it. Waiting for me to open my mouth.

In the attic the rain is deafening. And you’re down there somewhere. Sprawled on the garage roof or the front lawn or Cherry Avenue. In every memory your eyes are already vacant. I never liked it up here, the sloping ceiling pressing down to meet me, and all the sleeping rooms below.

There aren’t any stars tonight, and anyway they’re not for us. You’re dead. And I killed you. And I’m dying.

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Jen Kolic is a writer, editor, and know-it-all living in Denver. She co-hosts Queen City Companion with Brian Flynn, and Mutiny Book Club with Byron Graham. Jen enjoys cats, junk food, and mystery novels, ideally all at once. 

Photo: Yener Ozturk