Assaults & Rituals
Assaults & Rituals is a creative non-fiction manuscript that maps, in words and threads, the trauma(tized) body of a queer person who has lived through emotional, sexual and physical trauma— how it actually feels in my body to be living with and moving through complex trauma. The manuscript will imagine survivorhood as an altered state and will move between conscious states, dream states and other altered states. The manuscript is divided into 6 sections with each section opening with a piece of embroidery stitched by hand and sometimes with blood and human hair.
A split stitch—
Make one stitch. Double back and poke the needle through that stitch, right in the middle. Move forward, after the split, make another stitch the same length as the first. Then make another, back from that middle and out. Same length again. And on and on.
Sometimes it can feel a whole lot like backtracking, retracing, but sometimes, it’s splitting the middle wide open, using the break to shape the new.
Embroidery as a way of marking: the fabric (a body) the thread (the wounding). Threads going through holes, stitching, splitting, breaking open. Breaking into the wound, splitting it open, over and over. Each stitch new. Breaking to shape anew.
I am forever wanting a way to map the trauma that lives in my body: mark it, follow the trail, carve it and remove it, return to before or settle into after. I am forever searching for adequate translation of the trauma in my body, of speaking from inside the wounds, transferring them from skin to something else.
What tools can be used to translate the (queer) body after sexual trauma? Can language and thread mirror the ruptures and draw from failure in a body that knows trauma on an intimate level?
In Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, Susan Howe weaves together text and images, disparate parts to make a whole. She writes of the roots of the word text noting the English word “text” comes from Medieval Latin textus “style or texture of a work,” literally “thing woven,” from the past participle stem of textere: “to weave, to join, fit together, construct.”[i] She pulls in Gertrude Stein who says (w)hat is the difference between a sentence and a sewn? What is the difference between a sentence and a picture? They will sew which will make it tapestry… Think in stitches.”[ii]As a ritual of transference, as an attempt to weave my own tapestry, I work to translate skin into words into threads.
A wound as a word as a picture, giving shape to the energy rippling in a body after experiencing trauma(s).
My body as a sharp edge.[iii]
My body as a wandering question.[iv]
My body as a graveyard.
My body as a site of wreckage, roots deep.
My body as a battleground.
My body as a bundle of live wire nerve endings.
My body as rows and lines of thread.
My body as a pile of rubble.
My body as a holder of names and secrets.
My body as dearly departed.
My body is essaying. It is working through.[v]
My body is searching, often weary and worn.
My body is a pile of rotten bones.
My body is a state with no nation.
My body is a land(mass) with no borders. Seeping.
My body that has suffered the blows, the breaks.
My body cowers at the prick of an acupuncture needle.
My body as the site turned back on itself.
My body as the feeling I just can’t shake[viii].
My body, survivor body, as the ultimate failure,
as the ultimate blessing.
I want to write a dark book. I am a dark book. But there’s light in there, in me. And those two things, the light the dark— often placed at odds — they are not so different. They are not two ends of a spectrum. One is not evil, the other innocent. Pure. They teach each other. They are each other, always interconnected, interdependent.
Dark and light, they contain every color of the spectrum in their empty and full—a woven tapestry. It is not as if what is true, right, urgent, and necessary is a light, and what is harm is darkness. They are both darknesses: they are both lights.[ix] No the dark is not a demon, no the dark is not wrong, bad, something to be feared, escaped, moved beyond, conquered.[x] We continue always in the dark: some define this as an unknowing before the dawn of mathematical awareness. I would say in a time before knowing…But what of this metaphor of dark ( the cosmos itself may have other options) for isn’t the dark a fertile place? And how shall we call the light something pure (don’t we see stars only in night) in China faces are whited for funerals. [xi] Owning and exploring darkness, in all its brilliant luminescence and shades of grey, is moving beyond binaries, the trappings, opening into (the) wisdom.
In old notes, I have a one-liner of how I’d like that book to start and maybe I was talking about this book:
This is a book about failure, how we fail each other, how our bodies fail us too.Failure brings clarity—a place to root down into and bloom. We can grow out of that failure. I don’t believe that failure is the end. Maybe failure is the beginning.
I, the big mess, want to be a healer. I, the big mess, want to be healed.
Write the findings. Write what never ends.[xii] The body never ends— the bodies living inside other bodies, the little deaths rimming and running through each layer of skin.
There is a timeline and there is timelessness.
2005 left my rib cage on a street in South Philly in mid-January. The following day, my best friend clipped rows and rows of hair extensions underneath the baby hairs sprouting from my scalp, the new length supporting my transition into a woman who didn’t give a fuck.
2001 claimed my pelvic region, and below (actually). From belly button to high thigh, the two fleshy things I walk on meeting at a point of erasure. This pelvis, I left her on the stark bed of a high school athlete turned college frat-ass. The next morning, I ate at a diner, the grease of the bacon filling in the hollows.
2010 a butch lesbian threw me against a fence. As I turned myself around, she struck my face with her fist. Animal instincts kicked in; years of trauma never released from these bones fueling my pace, and I took her and threw her against a picnic table. Flattened her back against the slatted wood. That familiar high-flying level of alertness stayed in my muscles for days.
1990, I think, 9 years old, and my father strung me up against a wall as if my neck were the backing of a picture frame. Nailed me straight into it, spit fire into my face.
For years, I was drunk on anything that was cheap and I always had a friend who worked at a bar or restaurant or rotten hole when I needed more. I laugh now about how predictable my body was, how she craved the alcohol but didn’t always have the cash but could always smell it out. Mini bottles, a dollar or two each, could fill her up and blot her out for the night.
There was so much falling down— down stairs, in the street, up stairs, in the middle of a crowd, in front of that bodega after a turkey sandwich.
The tears come frequently. The body has weight. Sometimes the body is still “the body” to me.
I wrote her a letter once; thanked her for having the heartiest, if fractured, rib cage. Bones split, she was still content with safeguarding my heart. She went back to work, she slowly healed the hairline breaks. She did it without a complaint.
I know I still owe her an apology but I am very busy drafting emails to old lovers and their new lovers and old friends. I am committed to a cleansing, a releasing, but I haven’t made my way back to her just yet. The cinder blocks of a body forgetting and remembering and forgetting are clouding my view, are of such industrial weight.
I have been reckless with her, at times believed I didn’t need her, and to this day, I am most happy floating above my skull. Cardinal air sign, vata, libra stellium; all that air allows me to deny her a proper rooting. A proper grounding.
I had my aura read and all that showed up was violet and cobalt— only sky, and sky and sky.
[i] Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives
[ii] Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives
[iii] Helene Cixous, “Coming to Writing” and Other Essays
[iv] Helene Cixous, “Coming to Writing” and Other Essays
[v] Kate Zambreno, Toilet Bowl: Some Notes on Why I Write
[vi] N******** R***, Physical Assault and Stalking
[vii] S**** G****, Rape
[viii] Nick Cave, Push the Sky Away
[ix] Anne Boyer, The Harm, Hold: A Journal
[x] Dark-- so often connected to evil and lack, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s often used to reinforce dark/black as evil, and light/ white as good birthed out of racism. See The Autobiography of Malcolm X (reading the dictionary chapter) and Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark.
[xi] Arianne Zwartjes, (Stitched) A Surface Opens
[xii] Bhanu Kapil, Ban en Banlieue