The War Against Women That No One Wants to Admit–and a Poem

Trigger Warnings for child molestation and abuse and for sexual assault and domestic violence.

Whenever I read this poem in public, I preface it with a statement that there is a war against women taking place, followed by the current statistics on sexual assault, rape, physical assault, and murder, statistics that have risen every time I check them again and which are always worse for women of color and Native women. I don’t read this poem in public much, however, because it makes men uncomfortable–they shift in their seats visibly–and it brings so many women up to me afterward in tears to say that this poem was about their own lives. I have begun to feel that I should provide a therapist to the audience before I read it.

As we live through the nightmare created when Rowe v Wade was cast down by the Supreme Court, however, this poem feels appropriate. This is, ultimately, what patriarchy comes down to–women and girls at the mercy of men hurting them, simply because they can. We can always hope that they won’t–and not all of them do–but ultimately, they can. And they can get away with it over and over again, while women who try to keep them from getting away with it suffer and pay a huge price. Nothing there has really changed since I was a girl, except that women are generally less and less inclined to go quietly along. Our rage has grown too great. Though things were supposed to have changed, our current situation has shown us that they haven’t. But they will. They must.


Before I fall into the past,

I drive to the library,

thumb open a book

about the death of a child

in Greenwich Village and





to trash-filled rooms smelling

of milk, urine, beer and blood,

doors locked and curtains drawn

against the world,

dirty baby brother caged in a playpen,

mother nursing broken nose,

split lip, overflowing ashtray,

and father filling the room to the ceiling,

shouting drunken songs and threats

before whom I tremble and dance,

wobbly diversion, to keep away

the sound of fist against face,

bone against wall.


The book never shows

the other little brothers and sister hiding

around corners and under covers,

but I know they are there

and dance faster,

sing the songs that give him pleasure,

pay the price for their sleep

later, his hand pinching flat nipples,

thrusting between schoolgirl thighs,

as dangerous to please as to anger

the giant who holds the keys

to our family prison. Mother

has no way to keep him from me,

but I can do it for her and them.


Locked by these pages

behind enemy lines again

where I plan futile sabotage

and murder every night,

nine-year-old underground,

I read the end.

Suddenly defiant, attacked,

slammed into a wall,

sliding into coma, death

after the allies arrive,

too late, in clean uniforms so like his own

to shake their heads at the smell and mess—

the end I almost believe,

the end that chance keeps at bay

long enough for me to grow and flee,

my nightmare alive on the page.


Freed too late,

I close the book,

two hours vanished,

stand and try to walk

to the front door on uncertain legs

as if nothing were wrong.

No one must know.

I look at those around me

without seeming to,

an old skill,

making sure no one can tell.

Panic pushes me to the car

where the back window reflects

a woman, the unbruised kind.


In the space of three quick breaths

I recognize myself,

slam back into adult body and life,

drive home repeating a mantra,

“Ben will never hurt me–

All men are not violent,”

reminding myself to believe the first,

to hope for the last.




Years later, my little sister will sleep,

pregnant, knife under her pillow,

two stepdaughters huddled

at the foot of her bed,

in case her husband

breaks through the door

again. Finally,

she escapes

with just the baby.


My daughter calls collect

from a pay phone on a New Hampshire street.

She’ll stay in a shelter for battered women,

be thrown against the wall

returning to pack

for the trip back to Missouri,

a week before her second anniversary.

With her father and brother,

the trip home will take three days,

and she will call for me again.


Ana and Kay, who sat in my classes,

Vicky, who exchanged toddlers with me once a week,

Pat and Karen, who shared my work,

and two Nancys I have known,

among others too many to count,

hide marks on their bodies and memories,

while at the campus women’s center

where I plan programs for women students

on professional advancement

and how to have it all,

the phone rings every week with calls we forward

to safe houses and shelters.


In my adult life, I’ve suffered no man

to touch me in anger,

but I sleep light.


Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Linda Rodriguez’s 13th book, Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging, will publish in May 2023. She also edited Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriqueña Poets Look at Their American Lives, The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, The Fish That Got Away: The Sixth Guppy Anthology, Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology, and other anthologies.

Dark Sister: Poems was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Her three earlier Skeet  Bannion mystery novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration—received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. She also published Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop.  Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, was optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at or follow her on Twitter at  or on Mastodon at

12 replies
    • Linda Rodriguez
      Linda Rodriguez says:

      I’m getting an error message that won’t let me post this reply under TK’s comment, so I’ll just try to add it here.
      Thank you, TK. It’s a topic that leaves me very emotional, and I suppose that emotion translates to the page. .

    • Linda Rodriguez
      Linda Rodriguez says:

      So true. However, it’s troubling to watch even men that I know are good men shifting and twitching and obviously wishing they could just run out of the room and leave this alone.

  1. Donnell Ann Bell
    Donnell Ann Bell says:

    How sad that this poem ever had to be written. How wonderful that you had the courage to share it. This should never ever happen, but sadly it does. Thank you, Linda.

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