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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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