POETRY
Last Names

My father sexually abused me.
When I got married,
I hyphenated my name.

No one questioned it at the time.
But in the middle of my parents’ late divorce,
everyone wants to know about names.

He’s not a safe person is all I say.

But people demand justification, demand to know
why I didn’t take the chance to jump ship
when land was in sight,
why I kept “his” name—
a name I own as much as he does.

What they really mean to say is,
            Was it really that bad?
            Maybe you’re exaggerating?
            Why not come out sooner?
            He seemed so nice.
            Maybe you’re mistaken?
            Maybe you’re lying.

It doesn’t occur to them that I am also woman,
also human, complex and multifaceted,
also butterfly lizard.
That I didn’t want to give up my identity,
liked my initials, wanted to be strong and feminist,
to stand my ground, rebel against mores,
wanted my last name sharp with consonants
and long like a rapier.

It doesn’t occur to them that it’s not their business,
and my reasons were murky water, soiled pit stains,
that I was just as mortified of being married
as I was of being my father’s daughter.

People don’t see my name
as an opportunity to reveal his true character.
Rather, they see it as an invitation to question mine.

I know better than anyone that he is barnacles, cluster
fuck.
That I will never shake his shadow,
how it follows me through doorframes and into bed,
how the procedure is too expensive now
to remove his name like a bad tattoo.
I know that.

But this was mine too.
           This
            was mine
            too.

People don’t get it, but I forgive myself
when I change my mind, and mourn.
Forgive myself for being flaky,
for raising the white flag.
I reinvent myself.