Speaking Up, Speaking Out...
Against Domestic Violence

An awareness and visibility project around issues of domestic violence in various communities.

5.02.2006

Coitus Interruptus

This submission comes from poet Richard Jeffrey Newman, and the stories depicted in this poem all took place in New York City (either in Queens or on Long Island). His experiences are not direct or firsthand, but his poem is poignant nonetheless. This poem is actually being published next month, so the requisite publication information is at the end.

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Coitus Interruptus

1.

Naked at the window, my wife calls me
as if someone is dying, and someone
almost is, pinned to the concrete face down
beneath the fists and feet and knees of three

policemen. I’m still hard from before she
jumped out of bed to answer the question
I was willing not to ask when the siren
stopped on our block, but now I’m here, and I see

the man is Black, and how can I not
bear witness? They’ve cuffed him,
but the uniforms continue to crowd our street,
and the blue-and-whites keep coming,

as if called to war, as if the lives
in all these darkened homes
were truly at stake, and that’s the thing—
who can tell from up here?—maybe

we’re watching our salvation
without knowing it. Above our heads,
a voice calls out Fucking pigs!
but the ones who didn’t drag the man

into a waiting car and drive off
refuse the bait. They talk quietly,
gathered beneath the streetlamp
in the pale circle of light

the man was beaten in, and then
a word we cannot hear is given
and the cops wave each other back
to their vehicles, the flash and sparkle

of their driving off
throwing onto the wall of our room
a shadow of the embrace
my wife and I have been clinging to.

When I was sixteen, Tommy
brought to my room before he left
the Simon and Garfunkel tape
I’d put the previous night

back among his things. He placed it
on the bookshelf near the door
he’d slammed shut two days earlier
when he was holding a butcher’s cleaver

to my mother’s life. I wanted
to run after him and smash it at his feet;
I wanted to grab him by the scruff of the neck
and crush it in his face, to dangle him

over the side of our building with one
ankle in my left hand and the Greatest Hits
in my right and ask him
which I should let drop.

But I didn’t, couldn’t really:
he was much too big,
and I was not a fighter,
and one of my best friends right now

lives with her son in the house
where her husband has already hit her
with a cast iron frying pan,
and so there is no reason to believe

she is not at this moment cringing
bruised and bleeding in a corner
of their bedroom, or that she is not,
with her boy and nothing else in her arms,

running the way my mother
didn’t have a chance to run,
and there’s nothing I can do
but look at the clock—Sunday,

11:11 PM—and remind myself
it’s too late to call, that my calls
have caused trouble for her already.
When they pushed Tommy in handcuffs

out the front door, past where my mother sat,
quiet, unmoving, and I did not know
from where inside my own rage and terror
to pull the comfort I should have offered her,

the officer making sure Tommy
didn’t trip or run winked at me, smiling
as if what had happened were suddenly
a secret between us, and this our signal

that everything was okay. I wondered
if his had been the voice, calm
and deep with male authority—Son,
are you sure your mother’s in there

against her will?
—that when I called
forced me to find the more-than-yes
I can’t remember the words to
that convinced the cops they had to come.

2.

Sophomore year, walking the road
girdling the campus. Up ahead, a woman’s voice
pleading with a man’s shouting to stop.
A car door slamming, engine revving,

and then wheels digging hard into driveway dirt
that when I got there was a dust cloud
obscuring the blue vehicle’s rear plate.
The woman sprawled on the asphalt,

her black dress spread around her
like an open portal her upper body
emerged from. She pulled
the cloth away from her feet,

which were bleeding, and I drove
to where her spaghetti strap sandals
lay torn and twisted beyond repair.
She left them there. Then to her home,

two rooms in a neighborhood house,
and I helped her onto the bed
that was her only furniture, and filled
a warm-water basin to soak her feet,

and he had not hit her, so there was nothing
to report, but she said she was afraid
and would I sit with her a while.
We talked about her home in Seoul,

the man her parents picked for her
that she ran to America to avoid marrying,
and here she laughed—first trickle
of spring water down a winter mountain—

So instead I take from Egypt! I so stupid!
Then: What you think? Can man and woman
sleep same bed without sex?
I said yes.
So, please, tonight, you stay here? Maybe he coming back.

He fear white American like you.
I was not a fighter,
but I stayed, and in the morning when I left,
she said kamsahamnida—thank you—
and she bowed low, and she did not

ask my name, nor I hers, and though
I sometimes looked for her on campus,
I never saw her again. Just like Tommy,
whom I forgot to say before was white.

Just like the Black woman who lived downstairs
before I got married, whose cries—Help!
Please! He’s killing me!
—and the dead thud
of him, also Black, throwing her

against the wall, and his screaming—
Shut up, bitch! Fucking whore!—filled the space
till I was drowning. The desk sergeant
didn’t ask if I knew beyond a doubt

that she was being beaten,
but when she opened her front door
to the two men he sent, she shrieked
the way women shriek

in bad horror movies
when they know they’re going to die,
and I almost felt sorry for calling. A few weeks later,

a voice on the phone: You know
what’s going on below you, right?
Please, tape a message to the door: “Mr. Peters
has been trying to reach you.” Nothing else.

And whatever you do, don’t sign it.

For a month all was quiet. Then,
coming home early from work
I walked upstairs past people moving furniture

out of her apartment. No one ever
wants to get involved, right?
a thin white man
in shorts and a t-shirt whispered bitter
behind me. I kept walking

the way Tommy did when he saw me
trying to catch his eye: head down,
gaze nailed to the floor, and then he was gone,
and the questions I wanted to ask him

never became words. That tape
was all I had, till one day,
cleaning house, my mother
held it up:

Do you still want this?

I never play it.

Throw it out then.


So I did.


By Richard Jeffrey Newman
published in The Silence Of Men - CavanKerry Press

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