By Yemi Hailemariam ’23. Art by Adrian Hernandez ’22.

                                                        I wish you had slapped her.


You, from your pedestal of a car window,

lurched from your stupor the span of the red

one-twenty seconds of the traffic light to excuse

a vomit of impatient, hurdling,

killing machines.


You, hovering a tempted shoe dangerously

over the gas pedal—foreplay that toed the traffic police’s patience

—before the thrilling rush past the glare of the lights

and the enviously waiting limbs

of the Cross.


She, trusting the faux shield of a painted zebra,

threw her careless beeline before your revving car

and brazenly grazed the both of you with the thrill

of a near miss, an accident snatched from the jaws of

birth waiting to happen.


She, stopping at the lips of your side-view mirror

that tossed her own widened eyes back at her,

adjacent to your reflection of retreating shock

and bubbling entitlement riding on the loosening brake

of your car. Of your climbing rage.


                                                        She wishes you had slapped her,


So she could whip around on the frictionless surface

of indignation riding on the tails of her shuruba,

hot on the pimpled frown on her forehead and

poised on the taunt whip of her tongue.


So she could grip the resounding ring of the smack

and twist it into a shrill hymn that wrings

the inevitable whimper that punches past her epiglottis

into an ominous song.


So she could slice past the gaping mouth of the window

and the reassuring parallel of your arms on the wheel

to lick the adipose you paraded as muscle

with the blade of spit and scowl.


So she could present the warrant of first blood

justifying her impudent breach of the originally

genderless yet decidedly feminine expectation

to turn the other cheek.


                                                        We wish you had slapped her.


Because the phantom momentum of your audacity

carried to her netela wrapped frame, 

and the enduring discs of her strained spine

crumbled forward at the command of an instinct

gifted like the maternal mitochondria,

to house the skill of self-preservation,

store the ovules of heritable female obligations.


Because, the motion to avoid the hit

that never came trapped her in the vacuum

between the unscathed and scarred, carrying a wisp

too mute to ignite yet solid enough to cling.


And, in this airless state oily with a lingering shame

birthed in an unreachable crevice of her awareness,

she must draw in an involuntary dry breath and learn

to obey the curve of her duck and tread the space

at the nose of your car you belatedly let her cross.


                                                        I wish you had slapped her,


Then the crack of her head would mingle with the 

crumble of a twin standard and inject her with testosterone’s

time-tried right to a fair challenge.

But your mockery of displayed restraint yawns hollow

in its chivalry, laced with the strings of dismissal,

kissed with the awaited gasp of the feeble double X chromosome

and colored with her shame of ducking a feint.



Yemi Hailemariam

August 2019

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia