I just got a chapbook in the mail. It’s called “To the One Who Raped Me” and it’s by a poetry friend, Dustin Brookshire. I’ve known Dustin for several years, though we’ve never met in person. An earlier poem of his was featured in a “Where the poem comes from” post three years ago. Dustin let me know about this new chapbook and I asked to read a copy.
The poems in this book tell the story of the horrific assault Dustin experienced at the hands of a former boyfriend. I happened to read them on a day when the news is filled with the political fallout from delusional rantings about “legitimate rape,” whatever that may be. Violence against women is rampant in our society--in many societies--and for a woman to speak up as a survivor takes courage. I have no doubt that speaking up as a man who has survived rape takes even more.
How to strip yourself bare on the page and yet wrap yourself in dignity and grace? How to take a brutalizing thing and use it to make art? How to take something traumatic that happened to you and create something that could give voice to others?
Dustin’s rage is undeniably personal, but it is also societal. The poems are interleaved with facts from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, including that sexual assaults occur in the United States at the rate of one every two minutes and that men make up 10 percent of rape victims and are among those least likely to report the crime.
Telling the people close to you, watching a violent movie, feeling regret for what you think you might have done differently, the images that remain to haunt--all these are the subjects of his poems and they are not easy to read or to think about. But they are important to read, just as they were important to write. Dustin writes about how hard it is to say the word, to say that it happened to you. And yet, “the words open a cage door./ I will never go back in.” His words may give others the courage to open the door, too.