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,
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.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia