Jennifer Saunders


The way to refuse to do something one is not obligated to do is to gracefully refuse.

Richard E. Cytowic, M.D. “No Is a Complete Sentence.” Psychology Today Online, 9 April 2012


But consent is more than the absence of no. It is the possibility of a real yes. It is the presence of human agency. It is the horizon of desire.

     Laurie Penny, “The Horizon of Desire.” Longreads, September 2017


Things I am not obligated to do:

stroke an ego

stroke a penis

stroke the side of my face                    when struck.


Refusal is rarely graceful

between bodies

(and yet it exists).

Let us leave “graceful”

for a murmuration of starlings,

for their choreographed flight.

Let us say instead: the way

to refuse to do something

one is not obligated to do

is to re•fuse.


tr. 1a. To indicate unwillingness to do, accept, give, or allow.


I am unwilling to do

so many things:

I am unwilling to yield

to surrender

to concede

to roll over

to acquiesce

to be graceful in my refusal

to let you enter my body without invitation.

And because of this,

because I have had to be unwilling and unwilling

and unwilling, because I have perfected

unwillingness, I have become unwilling,

too, to disarm and stride out


towards the horizon –

to open the last door

of desire.


I am unwilling to cut my flesh

where somebody might see it


but god how I long for you to put your mouth

to that wound.


So I am willing myself

to be less unwilling.

I am willing myself

to untie my own wrists.


And what would that look like?

To come to you unbound

by any obligation                     but my own desire?


What would it feel like

to feed myself first, to place

the most tender piece of meat

on my own plate and fill myself?

Years of no have stuffed my mouth,

gag of fear,

swollen tongue of refusal,

I have starved myself

rather than risk poison until



has become a foreign language.

No – a forgotten one.

A language unlearned.


So let me run my hand

over the Braille of your body,

help me re-learn the grammar

of con•sent.


intr.v. 1. To give assent, as to the proposal of another; agree. 2. To be of the same mind or opinion.


I am of the opinion

that we should say yes

and yes and yes.


  1. n. 1. Acceptance or approval of what is planned or done by another; acquiescence. 2. Agreement as to opinion or a course of action.


Let us put our hands

on one another.

Let this be graceful.

Let us agree,

not just once,

but now and now and now and in

the constant now

to this course of action.



as in active,

as in verb,

as in agency,

as in choice,

as in v. 1. grant (yes), permit (yes), agree (yes), allow (yes), admit (yes), approve (yes); accept (yes), go along with (yes).


(yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes) (yes)


A yes,

not a not-no,

not a moment laced with the bitterroot of 2. yield, acquiesce, concede, give in, submit; obey, comply with, abide by, defer to, conform to,

but yes.


Yes and yes and yes each breath yes.



Deeply Troubled Women Are Always


the best in bed, as long as they’re not tiling the floor

with chicken bones and giblets, as long as they’re not


sharpening knives on the whetstone


of their tongues and memorizing charms,

writing your name in blood. You’ve got to treat ‘em

like shit to keep that magic down,

keep that power underground, keep them

from raising their dead.

Make sure they get dinner on the table, otherwise


they’ll be brewing up potions in the tea-kettle instead,


boiling fingernail clippings and stray hairs,

enchanting the straight pins

and perfecting their aim.


Shaving their heads, letting their mascara

raccoon their eyes, taking a baseball bat

to the glass box of their lives. Troubled

just another way of saying troubling,

another way of saying standing up straight

and untying their hair, unknotting their lips,

just another way of speaking the truth.


Madness just another way of not dressing

like a woman, of riding power

like a horse.


Can’t have that.

You’ve got to make the bathing suits smaller and the heels

higher. Keep ‘em practicing their balance

and worrying about their waists so they don’t remember


the first meaning of stiletto,

don’t trace that word on your back

while muttering chants under a moon full like a pearl.


Give them

no jewels. Nothing negotiable.


Nothing portable besides the clothes


on their backs.


Deeply troubled women are always


good on their backs


but prone to ranting after midnight, prone to eating

with their hands and shining their cheeks with grease.

Prone to not giving enough of a damn.

Minor details. If they’ve got the height,

the looks, the skin, you can overlook

a little crazy

in the short term.


You wouldn’t want to stay with them for long, though.

Hard to keep that crazy-woman magic down underground

every day. Deeply troubled just another way


of saying more power than you know how to douse.

Nasty. Nasty, all that power coming out of their eyes,


coming out of their whatever.




“Deeply Troubled Women Are Always” employs language from a variety of quotes by Donald J. Trump. Source material for some of the language used in “Deeply Troubled Women Are Always”:


Jennifer Saunders has work published or forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, UCity Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and in the winters she teaches skating in a hockey school and drives her hockey-playing sons to many, many hockey rinks.

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