In Today’s Version Of A Life That Is Not My Own by Danielle P. Williams

Artwork by Brooke Danaher Art

**CW: this piece contains mentions of rape**

In today’s version of a life that is not my own, I imbibe in one of my favorite to-dos. Submittable bears thirty-three poetry submissions. I think about the silent joy of reading new poems, learning new names. After reading a few submissions, I land on one by a white man. My own bias leads me to assume that his poems will (in one way or another) take ownership of a woman’s body. His biography describes him a “citizen-poet.”

How does intersectional feminism affect your life and/or work? 

He writes this poem “grapples with systemic racism in policing.” This poem “reflects on toxic masculinity in patriotism,” and this particular poem, titled Misogynoir, “exists at the intersection.”

Why do men take what do not belong to them? First my body, now these poems. In today’s version of a life that is not my own (though on occasion I still claim it to be) I am careful where I choose to lay my troubles down. Though some days I forget just how deep a poem can cut. 

I think about my own Black body bent over, as if in two places at once. The cold white marble sink a partition situated at the bend of my hip. His hot body rough against my lower half. Finally understanding the saying: half-dead. My poison-rotted stomach turning and revolting– a coup in my own body. No words were exchanged. Just hands positioning a body for consumption.

All I could think after reading, Whore — back for more?, was that sometimes a well placed word can hurt as much as a man who is physically hurting you. How sometimes hurt is felt in the body much much later. 

How my life can be taken away through a computer screen. Sent back into the parts of my body I prayed I’d forget was ever touched and used in its unconscious state. I’m a strong Black woman, I can hold my own, just give me notice. Let me buck up and fight back. Prepare to be broken.

Because I am not exactly sure of the kind of attack I am experiencing: go back go black attack misogynoir I recite the words to this white man’s poem again and again until I finally decide to text my assistant editor: “I think I just read a poem justifying raping a black woman???” I text my editor in chief: “He follows me on Twitter. I blocked him because his poem made me feel unsafe.”

In today’s version of a life that is not my own, I remember my Google searches: How do you know when you’ve been raped? I never clicked on links, just scrolled to look at whatever populated first: Misogynoir definition – noun. the specific hatred, dislike, and prejudice directed toward Black women.

I stare at the screen and wonder if all men hate Black women. I wonder when my body will be my own. If there is a version of this life that involves me, too.

Danielle P. Williams is a Black and Chamorro writer and spoken-word artist from Columbia, South Carolina. She has received nominations for the 2020 Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2021, with fellowships from Palm Beach Poetry Festival, The Watering Hole, and The Alan Cheuse Center for International Writers. She received her MFA from George Mason University in2021. Her poems were selected for the 2020 Literary Award in Poetry from Ninth Letter. You can find her work in Juked Magazine, ANMLY, Hobart, Flypaper Lit, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere. She is currently based in Los Angeles.

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