On Learning to Forgive the Women in My Family
I know that you did not mean for it to end like this–in me exorcising you from me. You never wanted this to be public; your mother always taught you suffering in silence elicited greater blessings, secured you a spot in another man’s kingdom, never mind the beatings it took to get you there. That is what it means to be a disciple of man, of men. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiven and submission is the only strength inherent in you. I didn’t know that carrying your blood would make my body an unceasing funeral procession, that my voice would learn your names before it learned itself. You have gifted me an unflinching victimhood, a sacrosanct anxiety, a stubborn, backward kind of anger that knows nothing of gentle hands and security. Being a daughter of such devoted trauma, of women that wore themselves like blistering, like festering, like suffocating, I have borne witness to how excessive, how redundant love can be, and I still do not know if I have inherited your artless brand of capitulation. I still do not know if this is the section that should be addressed to me, if I too am the residue at the bottom of a liquor bottle, the heaviness of an empty pill bottle, a vestige of nearly a century’s worth of unlearning resistance. A child borne of adolescence and screams in the night, my mother is the tragic hero I have inherited reluctantly. She is the plot line I was written into, and I am the conflict without a resolution. Our veins an unending literature of a graceless femininity, bloodletting the only way of learning redemption, of learning that even when it is not our fault, it is our fault, and we all found our own ways of coming to terms with that. And I am not the first writer in my family, and I am not the first war correspondent our men have bred, but I am the first one that anyone has ever listened to, and so here I am, playing both leech and vein for an audience that will never know how different all of our laughter sounds after we are finished sobbing. Trying to figure out where their pain ends and mine begins. Trying to forgive women that spent their entire lives trying to forgive themselves, and who am I to deny them the chance to be the first to love them? Who am I to question my mother and her fragility? To posthumously ask her to relive each invasion of her body? Even in death she is a colony, and here I am again parading our dying in front of you like a public hanging, waiting to hear your validation of each of our rapes, our abusive lovers, waiting for you to absolve us our femininity, just as we’ve always done. Here I am again, seeing my mother’s face, my grandmother’s face, mi abuelita’s face, my aunt’s face, my sister’s face, her daughter’s face and, realizing that this isn’t a poem of forgiveness–it’s an apology letter.
Cat Velez is a nonbinary, queer Boricua poet from Trenton, NJ. They attend Swarthmore College where they are a special major in Intersectional Representation. Cat was a semifinalist at the 2015 National Poetry Slam and College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), and was a finalist at 2016 CUPSI. They were also the 2015 Grand Slam Champion and Individual World Poetry Slam Representative for the Philadelphia Fuze. Cat loves angering white men, listening to trap music and salsa almost nonstop, and is a proud cat lover, but hates cat puns, so like, please don’t.