6.16 / December 2011

Jerking Off

listen to this poem


I have to admit that mechanically the term
implies a dick. Some grippable skin circumferance, some
handle, a thing which can be jerked on. (Off.) Fuck it.
I don’t have to admit anything. Consider my hands. Jar
lids. Bottle tops. Screws and seals of all kinds. When I
was twelve I learned the term “Fruit Cup Girl”:
she who asks a boy to break open her fruit cup
in a feigned or actual display of weakness. I am not
a Fruit Cup Girl. I wrapped my palms around a five-
foot dandelion my father couldn’t handle and yanked out
its three feet of root. When I bled my blisters over new
guitar strings after too many hours trying to get better
I strapped my fingertips with duct tape and got better
more. When my hair was long I could twine it
into braids six millimeters wide, scores of them. I can fold
a paper crane in under a minute. Stove knobs. Leaky
spigots. Apple mills. Crank flashlights. I’ve earned the right
to call what I do with my hands whatever the fuck
I want actually.


Moreover, what you do in the rattling bathroom of a Greyhound
bus when it’s barreling down the highway at seventy miles
per hour and you know you’re separated from other riders’ sleeping
or swearing or stretching by a wall slapped together
from plastic and carpeting but you don’t care because you’re
the only one there who has the guts to give
her body what it needs when it needs it RIGHT NOW is not
bean-flicking, it’s not pearl-polishing, not finger-walking or nail-
painting or hip-greasing or petting the cat or peach-
squeezing or working in the garden, and it isn’t
self-love. It’s jerking off. Call it what it is.


And don’t call this what it wasn’t: it wasn’t some amiable drunk
stumbling on at the Toledo station, taking
the seat beside me because the others were all full. It wasn’t
him beelining towards me for the notebook slammed
shut in my lap, for some searching intelligence
in my glance snapping like a magnet between the seat back
and the window; it wasn’t because I looked
like I might be interesting to talk to, though he mentioned
all these things. Though it could be that story,
if I wanted it to be that story. He wanted it
to be that story real bad. He asked me to read him
a poem and I did, because I like my poems sometimes
and I was in a good enough mood, and when I finished
he wrapped his arms around me and tried to kiss
my head and I shoved him. He said yeah, I know,
creepy, how old are you, I’m not a pedophile. I said,
I’m glad to hear it. He said, lighten up. He tried
to give me the pound every time I said something
he thought was funny. I siphoned all the hissing acid
I could muster through the sarcasm drip
stored just below my tongue, then gave Ohio’s brown
and stubbly fields my best poet stare, the one
that says Piss me off and I’ll make you the
the bad guy. I don’t feel bad about it. I didn’t make
him move: across the aisle and two seats ahead
a girl four or five years younger had her suitcase
propped up next to her and her face glued
forward. I didn’t tell him I’d be stranded
at the station when I got off, in case he decided he’d get off


Somebody compares me
to what would have happened if Ellen Page and Michael Cera
had actually had a baby. A boy
with a badly tuned guitar warbles about the miracle
he’s unjustly missing out on not being able
to give birth. A standup comic tries to find the middle ground
between being himself and not alienating
my hot friend by saying, In the end I mean I just
try to be funny, the politics don’t matter, you know?
I cry watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer a surprising
amount. Sometimes it’s the way she builds
a family out of people just aware enough
of their own screwed-up brains to love her the way
she slowly realizes she deserves. Sometimes
it’s the constant battering ram of loss and monsters
and loss and monsters and loss. I like the way the term
insists upon a jerk. Sometimes it’s just
relief, spilling over my eyelids, at the way she kicks
and guts and stabs, a whole other kind
of off, though closer than you’d think, watching her crack
her conspiring world open, letting herself do
what she knows she’s good at: hurt back. Hurt back. Hurt back.

Fiona Chamness is a writer, poet and performer from Ann Arbor, MI. She was part of the 2008 Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam team featured on HBO's Brave New Voices and is coathor (with Aimée Lê) of the poetry collection Feral Citizens, published in January 2011 by Red Beard Press. She has performed in Ann Arbor, Chicago, St. Louis, and Hanover, NH and in the semifinals of the National Poetry Slam in Boston the summer of 2011.
6.16 / December 2011