Poetry Suite by Julia Gaskill

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, December 6th, 2019

"A refusal to apologize for all of this femme."

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Poetry by Julia Gaskill

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Monica Lewinsky Claps Back.

The sky apologizes to Monica Lewinsky
for not catching her fast enough,
for not forming a comfort cloud cushion
for her to land upon.

Left her shrieking.
Left her wailing.
Left her plummeting

and plummeting
and plummeting
and plummeting
and I am

ten years old
in Jenna Saadeh’s basement
tucked into sleeping bag,
pressed between two giggling bodies,
eyes glued to television where
Saturday Night Live shows Molly Shannon
parading around as a twenty-two-year-old
in a spotlight she did not wish conjured,
laughter littering the backdrop.

Twenty years later,
Monica Lewinsky’s name is still the butt of the joke.

While Bill Clinton swaggers into camera’s view,
is applauded just for being there,
for having some good sense about him.

What a “supportive” husband.
What a “good” man.

The ocean apologizes to Monica Lewinsky
for mounting a living funeral
for yet another young woman
tricked into trusting a trickster,
into falling for the wolf,
all snarl and chew.

What a reminder.
That a man can thirst for infidelity,
crave bread from other tables,
hunger his family away
and still be welcomed by the world
with loving arms.

All while the world calls his wife
crazy shrew.
All while calling his ex-intern
deserved slut.

But.

Did you know that Monica Lewinsky
is now an advisor
for an anti-bullying organization?
Has a masters in social psychology?
Speaks out against cyberbullying?
Speaks out about her PTSD?
Speaks of how, though consensual,
there is something to be said of
a man twenty-seven years her senior
who was also the fucking president
making a move on his employee
and how that is the utmost definition of
abuse of power.

Did you know that
Monica Lewinsky could not
give a fuck about what you think of her?

In a 2004 interview she stated,
“I was the buffet,
and he just couldn’t resist the dessert.”

I think what she also meant was:

women are nothing if not
the sky,
the ocean.
the mountains.

Something so magnificent
men are desperate to claim.
Unconquerable miracles
men must plant a flagpole in.
Give us new names.
Say they are the first to touch our soil.
Say it’s not their fault
as they slowly ruin us,
raking their hands over
every inch of our landscapes.

The earth apologizes to Monica Lewinsky.
The earth apologizes to Anita Hill.
To Ashley Judd. To Zoe Quinn.
To Janet Jackson. To Jessica Stoyadinovic.
To Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

To every woman made mockery.
To every girl who did not crumble
as the world crafted her into

a lie,
a threat,
a punchline.

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Still Not Begging.

So I guess I’m still that stouthearted Bitch.

Guess after a decade I fulfilled my destiny,
perfected my snarl, my bite, my maul.

At the Hood River Harvest Festival,
I tell an entire family
they are cutting in line for cheese samples,
the peak Oregonian crime.
The family’s response is
to slink away, scowls hardened on all their faces.

My boyfriend later admits
he overheard the father of this family
breathe new life into the word,
was the one to do it.
said, “What a Bitch” I was.

Like, how dare I, right?
When I waited in line for ten minutes,
had a skyline of people standing behind me.
How dare I ask these strangers to follow the rules?
How dare I speak up for everyone else?

When I was nineteen,
I was so horrified to be given this title
by a boy who felt entitled to my body,
and now I wear Bitch like a badge of honor.

Like I wouldn’t howl at the first person
to feel power over others.
Like I wouldn’t pounce when strangers
can’t admit to their unwavering ignorance.
Like I wouldn’t flash my canines
in protection of those I love.

Like every ounce of what makes me
what the world calls Bitch
doesn’t come from the softest place
inside of me.

If I am a Bitch, it is only because
of how gentle I am.
How much I want this world to be better,
how even after it all
I still believe in the goodness of myself.
See me turn baying hound
the second others are wronged,
how I do it with so much warmth.
I am soft and kind and unrelenting,
and this is what people decide to hate.

Well. Then, fine.

Call me Tender Bitch.
Call me Will Fight For You Skank.
Call me Kindhearted Shrew.
Call me Compassionate Nightmare.
Call me Gives The Best Hugs Witch.
Call me I Will Always Stand Up For Myself Cunt.

Cause what is more horrifying
than a woman who says “no” and
doesn’t follow it with “sorry”?

What is more ruthless
than not letting a man’s words
shrink me into nothing?

What is more Bitch
than having the loudest bark in the room
and refusing to lower my voice?

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Man on a Bicycle.

Hello! It is I! Your friendly neighborhood
man riding a bicycle!
I know what I’m doing! I’m clearly in control!
Because, after all, I am a man! On a bicycle!

And as a man on a bicycle, I feel it is my duty
to yell at you, girl walking two dogs,
for staring at your phone while you cross the street!
The nerve of it all!
You are endangering yourself! And those dogs!
Clearly, as a woman and a millennial,
you do not know what you are doing!
You are not in control of your life!
Unlike me! A man! On a bicycle!

This is why I felt the urge to yell,
“Don’t look at your phone!
What are you doing!?”
I am so good at using words – clearly!!

And yes, I did notice that it was
eleven o’clock at night
and there were zero cars on the road
when you clearly looked both ways
before crossing the street,
and hey, maybe you just wanted to
enjoy some Pokémon Go at the end of your week…

But no! As a man! On a bicycle!
Your safety must come first!
And I must use my words to tell you so!

Clearly you do not know the first thing about safety!
You are not wearing a helmet! Like me!
You are not sporting a flashing light in the dark! Like me!
You are not a man! Like me!

So it is my duty to impose,
because if I do not impose then how will you ever learn?
If I do not scream at you
(Me! A strange man! In the dark! On a bicycle!),
how are you ever going to survive?
Can’t you see I’m only doing this to help you?!

So be thankful that I yelled at you!
Learn your lesson, ya stupid lady!
Learn to take control!
Aren’t you so glad that I, a man! On a bicycle!
was here to tell you what to do?

What would you ever do without me?

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Mother’s Day Mantra.

It is mother’s day
again,
and I am thinking of her
again.

Not that there is ever a day
I don’t think about my mom.

I write on Facebook:
If Mother’s Day is hard for you,
you’re not alone.
Take care of yourself today.

It is my mantra when
this holiday rolls around,

and my cousin responds:
Go do something that she would want to do.

So.
I take myself to Safeway,
buy peaches and butter,
return home to bake a cobbler.

This is not because my mother loved to bake
(which she didn’t)
or that she was incredible in the kitchen
(cause she definitely was not),
but I know that my mom

would have eaten the shit
out of a peach cobbler.

She had a love of food
that went unrivaled,
as was her love of everything in life.

What’s more,
I bake this cobbler knowing
she would be proud of me
for making something out of nothing.

I have written dozens of poems
about my mom.
The good ones only
started showing up in the last five years.
My poems about her are always
laced with sadness,
heavy with mourning.
I think to myself
how this is a sin,
because my mother
was the happiest person.

Always a huge grin on her face;
a laugh that could rival a firework display.
She was the person at the party
everyone wanted to talk to;
the English teacher in all those
cliché inspirational films.
She loved my dad relentless
and would have left him
in a heartbeat for Tom Hanks.
She enjoyed Shakespeare,
Maya Angelou, John Irving,
and thought that Shrek was
the funniest film she had ever seen.

She was the sun, or rather, a galaxy,
and since her death
I am still trying to navigate my way back
to her solar system.

It is difficult to mourn someone
who was buried
over half a lifetime ago.
So easy to put a parent on a pedestal
when you never knew them as an adult.

I mourn fragments of a human,
all the what ifs, all the it could have beens.

I visit my mother’s grave today
for the first time in a year.
I sit on the ground and tell her
of my boyfriend, of poetry, of dogs.

Giving up on the concept of god means
giving up on the concept of life after death,
but damn, it still feels so nice to talk.

I leave her grave
and do not cry,
and I wonder if this
is what healing feels like.

To finally tuck her memory
where it does not hurt.
To not spend the day
in bleak mourning.

I know it’s what she’d want.

When I do not cry
I do not think
“bad” daughter,
“not sad enough” daughter,

I just think “daughter.”

So.
I watch a Tom Hanks movie.
I kiss a dog and smile.
I bake the shit out of a peach cobbler,

the aroma filling my house
with the sweetest scent.

+++

an ode to NYX
and unapologetic acts of femme.

I resisted the eyeliner for so long.

It always seemed too      bold?
Too loudmouth?
Too slammed door?
Too forest fire?
Too look at me?

Mascara was my first vanity,
made my face into a thousand butterfly kisses.
Next, the lipstick, a crimson dictionary.
Then came the blush – a fluster.
Then came the cover up – a flawless fib.

I made myself into the women
I always saw in the movies;
so put together, so mature.

My parents let me know
before I was even allowed to wear makeup
that too much of it made you

unsavory, or desperate, or both.

Just like the women
who cut off all of their hair,
covered themselves in tattoos,
wore clothes to show off their sun-kissed skin.
I was taught to not be like them.

But one day
the pencil found its way
into my curious palm.

The first time I applied eyeliner,
I swear, a hallelujah chorus burst
through my bathroom ceiling.
A volcano erupted inside my lungs.
Engulfed in flames,
I grasped this new magic to my chest, like
an ex-Catholic once grasped the Bible.

Now instead of the Bible,
I swear my life on NYX’s Epic Eyeliner,

and the truth of it is how
my eyes have always been
the loudest thing about me.
Open the book of me
and see every drunk man in a bar
and every drunk boy at a house party
who thought the following a compliment:

“Has anyone ever told you
how big your eyes are?”

What am I even supposed to say to that?

“Congratulations, motherfucker!
You’re the first person ever
to notice that my eyes are scary big!”

The skill of pointing out the obvious
has never much impressed me.

My body is more than a conversation starter;
it is its own station, its own cathedral.
I built it brick-by-brick with these two good hands.
Muddied my skin laying down the foundation,
muscled the weight of becoming,
guarded the sanctum from trespassers with a shotgun –
I dare you to tempt me to use it,

and eyeliner is nothing if not
another brick to sanction this home.

Just like
all the hair I chop,
all the tattoos I gather,
all the skin I expose.

My eyeliner turns me into
something solid,
something so much myself.

If my eyes are the loudest thing about me,
then turn the volume up,
let my eyes grown even larger,
let them bloom to the size of skyscrapers.

Nowadays I refuse to go out into the world
without wings,
without daggers.
Bleed yourself senseless
if your gaze lingers too long.

Look at how sharp
these eyes sculpt themselves.
A pinprick sucker punch.
A refusal to apologize for all of this femme.

Look at how proud,
look at how loudmouth,
look at how epic
I have become.

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Julia Gaskill (she/her) is a professional daydreamer hailing from Portland, Oregon. She has competed multiple times on national stages with her poetry across the country. Her work has been featured on FreezeRay Poetry, Ink&Nebula, Rising Phoenix Review, Knight’s Library Magazine, Voicemail Poems, and more. Her poem ‘I Will Not Beg For Scraps’ was nominated for Best of the Net in 2015. Julia is the author of four chapbooks, runs the mic Slamlandia, co-founded the Bigfoot Regional Poetry Slam in 2019, and just released her debut spoken word album, Stouthearted Bitch. It goes without saying that she loves Muppets more than you. Find Julia at @geekgirlgrownup or facebook.com/jgaskpoetry

Header image courtesy of Jessica Dunegan. To view her artist feature, go here.

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Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.