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Article
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Poetry

Poetry | Red Velvet Suite

i.

Which is not to say it was all red velvet or that there was nearly
as much red, even, as I remember

not the fancy whorehouse I was in first in Vancouver, this one
a dive (my work permit had run out), why there seemed
no other option than
keep going, or

they owe me now
which you think is not the same as they own me now
but it owns me now is somehow

OK. I wrote about the red velvet before, partially
in one of those stories, well
I changed the city
changed it from brothel to outcall, added
a cab ride, added two men, added roofies, you know

to make it not my fault

it was New Year’s Eve, I kept that part
but did someone say that shift was asking for crazies
then, or later? Was it the girl
who told me she’d worked on track
and I didn’t know what that meant
thought maybe a drug reference? But nodded
and kept my mouth shut
(so as not to look stupid, my MO, later
all terms would become clear); the girl

had long hair that was sometimes blonde, sometimes ginger
sometimes auburn
and she’d sit there hauling hair serum between flattened palms
through and through, tilting her head
a far-off gaze, over the top

of the television, whatever
reality show or police procedural was spitting out of it
hair like a rusty oil slick
but still she looked good, well
she was a pretty girl, with a round face and wide blue eyes, I
wished I looked like her, I spent a lot of time

wishing
such things, imagining
glances and lines of dialogue, scenes, alternate
eventualities, & lives
that’s embarrassing/sad
maybe, a sorta
big waste, then again
what else are you gonna do in one of these lounges
big laugh too (the girl had)
and if she didn’t know what something meant she’d say it

often two guys would come in asking for her
and if she was there they’d sit in the lounge with us
leaning back, manspreading (as we didn’t call it then)
one hand dangling in front of a dick, pointing at a dick
advertising a dick? Or a brittle

nonchalance; I never saw them take a session, hooker groupies
looky-loos, dealers, or her pimps from the track?
I didn’t know. Too young to be pimps (I thought)
but I knew nothing about pimps in the street sense. Perched

on the couch, tossing her head
grabbing more hair to palm-haul
talking and laughing about whatever like

people who can talk and laugh about whatever do
while the girl with her face glued to the mirror
kept plucking, mysterious, pluck pluck, for hours (or so it
seemed) how could you see to do that in here, well
she did have striking brows
arches, vaults

and the third girl I remember
ex-army, exotic/fascinating (to me) also how she’d arrive
in cargo pants and shit-kicker boots, change into stilettos
and a red dress, skintight over her pregnant belly.
She used to date an actor-director who was getting a lot of
attention at the time, I’d seen his movies
artsy thrillers; I was impressed

she told me about their life in California, but all
I remember now is who he was. Platinum blonde
with charcoal roots and dimples like rivets (her).
Well, usually three other girls
working nights in that place and these are three
I can remember, but I don’t know
if that night it was these three. At that time
I didn’t go to work without the water bottle with vodka
and orange or vodka and Crystal-Lite; vodka
and something—but I wasn’t
at that time in the habit of overdoing it
(at work). Just that bit of alter
I needed. Shake it now (my alter/altar)
watch the granules dust-storm then

settle. Lift it to my mouth.
Feel the warm slow spreading like sand
at the upper reaches of a wave, melt me into
the foamy armchair, I miss it
(right now) my old friend and never mind the rest; the moment
never minds the rest

that night we’d had champagne too because yippee
New Year’s. 1999. That Prince song was everywhere.
I don’t think I’d had a job yet when the man scattered in
like a cracked spigot. One of those young-old ones
with a face like a weatherboard house
skin pulled tight over his cheekbones
tall, skinny, jittery, speeding on something

but whatever. Sketchy as fuck
but whatever. No it wasn’t him but some other man
who, when I went out to greet
turned me around like a rotisserie
and I said, Is it all there? Or:
All in place? But with a smile
and a laugh, as though I thought he was
sweet/hot, etc. In any case
that guy didn’t pick me. With the spigot man

I went into the room at the end of the hall.
My choice or his? (Sometimes they liked to pick that too.) Maybe
there were four rooms in this brothel but I remember
only this room
with a futon that faced the window at the front
red (faux) velvet

curtains floor length. Outside the window was Hastings.
I want to remember
what it looked like from outside
there would have been a sign (red neon let’s say)
and the entrance on that street
a narrow flight of stairs like a bronchus

a sign then, a door, and a partial view
of a partial flight of stairs, I want to say
the door had one of those square windows at the top
and there might have been stair lights like ticker tape
missing a light every few, retroreflecting
up, up, let’s say
a set of eyes could go
from a hypothetical car

window trailing caterpillar past in the night. A couple of stores
and boarded-over windows and the small grotty park to the
right. What could have been seen from there was not much right
(velvet don’t flutter), maybe

that’s the point; from the front of the building these
were the things that
didn’t happen: the man wasn’t

a tall hard (jittering) shadow who shut the door behind him
and pushed me to the floor. And I didn’t

feel the way I tumbled to be (when I remembered it)
a soft cascade (the hazy edges again, and the white)

(which is not how it must have been at all; it was also
a floor with carpet worn rock hard
as I was to put it later, in a story), and I didn’t

Laugh
because I always laughed, I wasn’t acting, even at that point
like this was funny and I was, as usual
delighted at whatever inane thing
wanting to move him to the futon
while keeping rapport, I wasn’t

pretending then, when that didn’t work
(& pretending for whom?) that nothing was happening
that couldn’t be sorted out
with more pretending
and not overreacting
but this man: like a swarm
of men. My throat burned exhaust and I knew

something was going wrong.

I said no
or please no, or no no no
something like that, then
not without a condom. What I didn’t know

that a man could be a concrete block, a man could be a tide
that I couldn’t propel myself up, or kick him away, and what
he kept

going? (Sorta disbelief), sorta feeling like
a struggle inside my skin like my skin
was a plastic bag I was trying to get out of, or a straitjacket; where

were my arms? Was he holding them down, maybe he
wasn’t, what was I doing with my (maybe)
free arms? It took

a long time, or
it was relatively quick. I was a sorta (wriggling) corpse only
thinking, what
was happening, I mean what, actually
was this, was something

I thought with an almost
intellectual curiosity (from way off
up there/over there/somewhere
else); I mean (again) what, exactly, was happening, here? I did not

yell. I did not scream.

  

ii.

In which I went to a free clinic
in which I got tested. In which I said
I’d had unsafe sex.
In which I filled out a form. In which
in response to the question:
Have you ever been a sex worker?
I answered: Yes. In which the man

pierce-glanced at me
then away (those
eye drills again), and I thought oh no
you were supposed to lie about that

right? I never knew
the correct things to lie about
and I knew that I never knew but
knowing this didn’t make me know.
Fear like an icy blanket bucket-stuffed
they’ll call the cops!
It was legal here but I wasn’t
& in any case there were harassments
or were these the easier worries to have
I don’t know; worry like a

scurrying burrowing rat said keep
worrying yourself into the worry box
where worry thought worry was a way
to prevent a thing from happening
(you hoped), also
let the gods know you were
serious; well
the tests came back negative
and no one came to arrest me. Crisis

averted, right? In which
I decided to leave the rest alone
like a gravestone I never visited
let the grasses and leaves and
Spanish moss grow over; no
cover it with more leaves
and grasses, no
bulldoze it, no; in which

it returned to me (again again), as
images that told me to figure out
what they were, or because
they wouldn’t stop
only thing to do was

figure them out; I mean
try, I mean why

hadn’t I fought back?/more?/what
is a block what is a tide what
was I doing with my (maybe?) free
arms? But then I’d be thinking
about things like the carpet

how thick it was near
those red velvet curtains, whereas
in the centre of the room it was worn
(rock hard), like gum on pavement
and how the dust and cobwebs
trailed from the seam of the curtain

a jungle world in miniature, with vines
creepers, lianas, epiphytes
I imagined myself machete-
waving, aegis-wielding
slashing my way through; this

seemed
funny? Those images

again, and why
I hadn’t fought back/couldn’t?/just
didn’t?/

repeat
repeat
repeat

I told no one I worked with
(had a shower? went back
to the lounge? poured more champagne?).
I told one person, months later
but said the guy was holding me down
in a later version I added a knife
shame upon shame

I was such a liar.

I thought:
if I tell it like I remember it
he won’t think it was anything

and I wanted him to think
it was something, I
wanted to tell someone
what I remembered
but when I tried, same thing happened
as when I tried to think about it

it was many years before I read
that this is typical
of the way trauma destroys narrative
the ability to tell one that is
in an A to B way, the fixation instead
on fragments, images
pieces of glass that just add up
to more shards when you sit them
together

red velvet/
weatherboard face/
carpet worn rock hard/
floating, cascading, landing/
trailing curtain dust/

I put it down to my bad speaking
and lack of storytelling skills
then proceeded to narrate
a version that fit better

with popular culture depictions
of what I called the r word, this

made sense how? Years later too
I read that many of us come up with
a cover story
= one we are able to tell
but back then, I couldn’t understand
my lies, or those parts of the story
I could tell no-one

 

iii.

You can’t rape a hooker
I hear that, years later
I mean I would have heard it at the time too but
I remember this one time I heard it
probably because I wrote it in my journal

it was on an episode of Law and Order SVU
it was not said by a sympathetic character
still, we know
how lies can become truth
by being repeated

two out of three boyfriends also
said or would have said
the same. Bad taste in men
sure. I knew
better but I didn’t
know better, you know, also

fight, flight—or freeze
it’s a real thing, I know (now). Let’s call that
a lightbulb that took
approx. two decades (to apply it to me that is)
here’s another:

wrenched/bitten/shoved/
lump of flesh putty/
fresh flesh putty/
& no no no/
= blah blah blah/
(a regular work day)

did I think
how was this so different? Of course
there were differences, my (more insistent)
no’s could be pointed to (point to them please
I didn’t, then), but I can understand
if it didn’t feel different enough

to react to more decisively, or there was some
sort of confusion
as to whether it was different
that needed processing
(= time, which was not available)
or that in the moment, my learned default
functioning basically; let it happen

I think of Seligman’s poor dogs
in rubber harnesses and shocked and nothing
they could do about it, then
big surprise?
cowering, whimpering, their floppy-eared
resignation hugging
the corners of parrilla-floored cages
even when the doors were open wide

unlocked that is, and three girls
we think, in the lounge at the other end
of the hall, TV noise pumping probably
through thin walls, or was it just
to raise my voice, even, make a fuss
was something I avoided (what if you were
wrong?), let alone

what, eye gouge, choke
hold, knee to the groin, I’d never done anything
like that, how
was I supposed to
know how, right then? Probably fail
and he’d hurt me worse (was that
in my thoughts somewhere; I don’t
know). Another brutal
and unnecessary experiment as it turns out:

regarding my passivity, relative/
total/whatever/
as a sign of weakness and culpable response
requiring cover-ups, interrogation
explanation, and expiation

rather than a way I survived
where that just means
what happened
to me or someone like me
who was still there after, in some sense

stumbling thought steps and red mud-stuck
shame-struck questions circling
while the one I don’t remember
ever thinking to ask, why
did he do it

gaps in red/
velvet curtains/
peepholes of white/
light/
 
 

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Rose Hunter’s book of poetry, glass, was published by Five Islands Press in 2017, and her next, Anchorage, is forthcoming from Haverthorn Press (UK, 2020).

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Comments

  1. My brain expanded reading your poems (going to places it had not been before). Thank you.

    • Thank you so much Danijela. I am enjoying your work at Overland ++, and must read your poems. I am also fascinated by the idea/subject area of the History of Emotions. (I googled you. :)) Thank you again for taking the time to comment here, and I look forward to reading more of your work!

  2. What a beautiful way to tell a story of tragedy and the healing process. It’s raw, powerful, brittle, gentle and forgiving (of self, not ).

    • Thank you so much Eileen! Yes, not forgiving of self at all at that point. It has come though, like the light at the end. Hard fought and in the dark all along the way.
      Thank you again for reading, and for your comment.
      It means a lot.++ 🙂

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