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International Women’s Day 2019 and I Did Not Die

in Identity by

I am writing another             poem about suicide. Every poem
I write seems to start             there, if only because for all
the times I wanted        to commit suicide, I did not and so
I am still here             to write these poems.             There are demo-
graphic factors to this. For starters, that I could             learn
to write. That my family could afford          the laptop on which
I now write. That I went       to a school which let me write
poems that at the time did not seem         to be about suicide
and instead stole Emily Dickinson’s mock-sonnet form and asked
questions          about existence and the universe          in lofty
old language, but reeked          of a desperate sadness
that sometimes I think        all teenagedom reeks of.        That I had
the space in which to reek of this and to be             a teenage
girl, though of course that also means          I was a teenage girl.
Everything seemed     to tell me       I should not write, or could
not write well. I had chronic                 headaches the doctor told
me were common for girls, even after             I already knew
they were a problem. I could not             write in notebooks
without my palms cramping and my arms          sticking in
place, hence the laptop. I cried       a lot. One demographic
factor here is that more women             than men are depressed
and more women want to commit suicide                 than men, but
more men actually go through        with it. Another is that almost
twice as many contemporary poets          today are women
than are men, and when I name writers             the ones I love
most are always women. The ideology             of understanding
your feelings         enough to       explain them to others       in a style
imagined as secluded, confessional, and emotional          is
a kind of femininity. Even when we like        women we tend
not to like        femininity, which is why my mother        grounded
my younger brother for crying        after she wouldn’t let him
play with dolls. Kids learn           associations quickly. The next
afternoon, I snuck       into my brother’s room       and rifled
through what he had hidden           under the bed, like my mother
rifled through the bins       in my closet when I misbehaved
and read through     my diary. Privacy is a privilege       we afford
the tough. In a notebook shoved       into the back corner of
his floor, my brother wrote     Sometimes     in my heart     I feel
like you’re not even     listening. Sometimes   I wonder       if it would
be better       if I died.
I never told him I read it. It took         another
eight years for him to see         a therapist. By then     he had stopped
crying where people could       notice. I asked         what he wanted
to become       when he was older and he said a doctor.       There
are demographic factors         to this. For starters,       that he could
imagine affording       medical school. That he felt     he could
become a doctor         because both films and our real life
trips to the doctor’s office         had shown him mainly male
doctors. That he could learn           to write. There is also       the absence
of tenderness here. We consider           the medical clinical. When I asked
him if he would consider becoming     a writer, he said, No,     that’s a girly job.
What’s wrong         with a girly job? Reeking of sadness. Crying a lot. Owning
the worst kind of femininity           we can imagine. On International
Women’s Day I visited         my brother at his high school and there was
a poem hanging         in the hallway about powerful         women. As I read
I changed the pronouns to he/him       and the entire poem sounded
the same. I am writing another poem about suicide               because I was
a girl who thought she would commit suicide and also a girl who stayed
alive and also a girl.     Some of the men     I knew       who had more
privilege did not stay alive. Even though I think       on International Women’s
Day of the women     in my life who have been punished     for being tender,
the men deserve their own kind of mourning.             I am still here
to write these poems. I am still here           naming the people
I love and even the ones         who are not women know the power
of confession,         and of kindness       to those who confess.

 


Courtney Felle (she/her) is a sophomore at Kenyon College. More of her writing can be found or is forthcoming in Honey & Lime, Half Mystic Press, Blue Literary Magazine, and Reclaim: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry, among other publications. She is the editor-in-chief of Body Without Organs Literary Journal.