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Tanisha Sethi

Abstract Horror Tragedy


Tanisha Sethi

Abstract Horror Tragedy

A Woman Is Talking to Death

A Woman Is Talking to Death

14 mins 202 14 mins 202


Testimony in trials that never got heard

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me

my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we were driving home slow

my lover and I, across the long Bay Bridge,

one February midnight, when midway

over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene:

one small young man standing by the rail,

and in the lane itself, parked straight across

as if it could stop anything, a large young

man upon a stalled motorcycle, perfectly

relaxed as if he’d stopped at a hamburger stand;

he was wearing a peacoat and levis, and

he had his head back, roaring, you

could almost hear the laugh, it

was so real.

“Look at that fool,” I said, “in the

middle of the bridge like that,” a very

womanly remark.

Then we heard the meaning of the noise

of metal on a concrete bridge at 50

miles an hour, and the far left lane

filled up with a big car that had a

motorcycle jammed on its front bumper, like

the whole thing would explode, the friction

sparks shot up bright orange for many feet

into the air, and the racket still sets

my teeth on edge.

When the car stopped we stopped parallel

and Wendy headed for the callbox while I

ducked across those 6 lanes like a mouse

in the bowling alley. “Are you hurt?” I said,

the middle-aged driver had the greyest black face,

“I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t stop, what happened?”

Then I remembered. “Somebody,” I said, “was on

the motorcycle.” I ran back,

one block? two blocks? the space for walking

on the bridge is maybe 18 inches, whoever

engineered this arrogance. in the dark

stiff wind it seemed I would

be pushed over the rail, would fall down

screaming onto the hard surface of

the bay, but I did not. I found the tall young man

who thought he owned the bridge, now lying on

his stomach, head cradled in his broken arm.

He had glasses on, but somewhere he had lost

most of his levis, where were they?

and his shoes. Two short cuts on his buttocks,

and that was the only mark except his thin white

seminal tubes were all strung out behind; no

child left in him; and he looked asleep.

I plucked wildly at his wrist, then put it

down; there were two long haired women

holding back the traffic just behind me

with their bare hands, the machines came

down like mad bulls, I was scared, much

more than usual, I felt easily squished

like the earthworms crawling on a busy

sidewalk after the rain; I wanted to

leave.  And met the driver, walking back.

“The guy is dead.” I gripped his hand,

the wind was going to blow us off the bridge.

“Oh my God,” he said, “haven’t I had enough

trouble in my life?” He raised his head,

and for a second was enraged and yelling,

at the top of the bridge—“I was just driving

home!” His head fell down. “My God, and

now I’ve killed somebody.”

I looked down at my own peacoat and levis,

then over at the dead man’s friend, who

was bawling and blubbering, what they would

call hysteria in a woman. “It isn’t possible”

he wailed, but it was possible, it was

indeed, accomplished and unfeeling, snoring

in its peacoat, and without its levis on.

He died laughing: that’s a fact.

I had a woman waiting for me,

in her car and in the middle of the bridge,

I’m frightened, I said.

I’m afraid, he said, stay with me,

please don’t go, stay with me, be

my witness—“No,” I said, “I’ll be your

witness—later,” and I took his name

and number, “but I can’t stay with you,

I’m too frightened of the bridge, besides

I have a woman waiting

and no license—

and no tail lights—“

So I left—

as I have left so many of my lovers.

we drove home

shaking, Wendy’s face greyer

than any white person’s I have ever seen.

maybe he beat his wife, maybe he once

drove taxi, and raped a lover

of mine—how to know these things?

we do each other in, that’s a fact.

who will be my witness?

death wastes our time with drunkenness

and depression

death, who keeps us from our


he had a woman waiting for him,

I found out when I called the number

days later

“Where is he” she said, “he’s disappeared.”

“He’ll be all right” I said, “we could

have hit the guy as easy as anybody, it

wasn’t anybody’s fault, they’ll know that,”

women so often say dumb things like that,

they teach us to be sweet and reassuring,

and say ignorant things, because we dont invent

the crime, the punishment, the bridges

that same week I looked into the mirror

and nobody was there to testify;

how clear, an unemployed queer woman

makes no witness at all,

nobody at all was there for

those two questions: what does

she do, and who is she married to?

I am the woman who stopped on the bridge

and this is the man who was there

our lovers teeth are white geese flying

above us, but we ourselves are

easily squished.

keep the women small and weak

and off the street, and off the

bridges, that’s the way, brother

one day I will leave you there,

as I have left you there before,

working for death.

we found out later

what we left him to.

Six big policemen answered the call,

all white, and no child in them.

they put the driver up against his car

and beat the hell out of him.

What did you kill that poor kid for?

you mutherfucking nigger.

that’s a fact.

Death only uses violence

when there is ant kind of resistance,

the rest of the time a slow

weardown will do.

They took him to 4 different hospitals

til they got a drunk test report to fit their

case, and held him five days in jail

without a phone call.

how many lovers have we left.

there are as many contradictions to the game,

as there are players.

a woman is talking to death,

though talk is cheap, and life takes a long time

to make

right. He got a cheesy lawyer

who had him cop a plea, 15 to 20

instead of life

Did I say life?

the arrogant young man who thought he

owned the bridge, and fell asleep on it

died laughing: that’s a fact.

the driver sits out his time

off the street somewhere,

does he have the most vacant of

eyes, will he die laughing?



They don’t have to lynch the women anymore

death sits on my doorstep

cleaning his revolver

death cripples my feet and sends me out

to wait for the bus alone,

then comes by driving a taxi.

the woman on our block with 6 young children

has the most vacant of eyes

death sits in her bedroom, loading

his revolver

they don’t have to lynch the women

very often anymore, although

they used to—the lord and his men

went through the villages at night, beating &

killing every woman caught


the European witch trials took away

an independent people; two different villages

—after the trials were through that year—

had left in them, each—

one living woman:


What were those other women up to? had they

run over someone? stopped on the wrong bridge?

did they have teeth like

any kind of geese, or children

in them?



This woman is a lesbian be careful

In the military hospital where I worked

as a nurse’s aide, the walls of the halls

were lined with howling women

waiting to deliver

or to have some parts removed.

One of the big private rooms contained

the general’s wife, who needed

a wart taken off her nose.

we were instructed to give her special attention

not because of her wart or her nose

but because of her husband, the general.

as many women as men die, and that’s a fact.

At work there was one friendly patient, already

claimed, a young woman burnt apart with X-ray,

she had long white tubes instead of openings;

rectum, bladder, vagina—I combed her hair, it

was my job, but she took care of me as if

nobody’s touch could spoil her.

ho ho death, ho death

have you seen the twinkle in the dead woman’s eye?

when you are a nurse’s aide

someone suddenly notices you

and yells about the patient’s bed,

and tears the sheets apart so you

can do it over, and over

while the patient waits

doubled over in her pain

for you to make the bed again

and no one ever looks at you,

only at what you do not do

Here, general, hold this soldier’s bed pan

for a moment, hold it for a year—

then we’ll promote you to making his bed.

we believe you wouldn’t make such messes

if you had to clean up after them.

that’s a fantasy.

this woman is a lesbian, be careful.

When I was arrested and being thrown out

of the military, the order went out: dont anybody

speak to this woman, and for those three

long months, almost nobody did: the dayroom, when

I entered it, fell silent til I had gone; they

were afraid, they knew the wind would blow

them over the rail, the cops would come,

the water would run into their lungs.

Everything I touched

was spoiled. They were my lovers, those

women, but nobody had taught us how to swim.

I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down

when I signed the confession of what we

had done        together.

No one will ever speak to me again.

I read this somewhere; I wasn’t there:

in WWII the US army had invented some floating

amphibian tanks, and took them over to

the coast of Europe to unload them,

the landing ships all drawn up in a fleet,

and everybody watching. Each tank had a

crew of 6 and there were 25 tanks.

The first went down the landing planks

and sank, the second, the third, the

fourth, the fifth, the sixth went down

and sank. They weren’t supposed

to sink, the engineers had

made a mistake. The crews looked around

wildly for the order to quit,

but none came, and in the sight of

thousands of men, each 6 crewmen

saluted his officers, battened down

his hatch in turn and drove into the

sea, and drowned, until all 25 tanks

were gone. did they have vacant

eyes, die laughing, or what? what

did they talk about, those men,

as the water came in?

was the general their lover?



A Mock Interrogation

Have you ever held hands with a woman?

Yes, many times—women about to deliver, women about to have breasts removed, wombs removed, miscarriages, women having epileptic fits, having asthma, cancer, women having breast bone marrow sucked out of them by nervous or indifferent interns, women with heart condition, who were vomiting, overdosed, depressed, drunk, lonely to the point of extinction: women who had been run over, beaten up. deserted. starved. women who had been bitten by rats; and women who were happy, who were celebrating, who were dancing with me in large circles or alone, women who were climbing mountains or up and down walls, or trucks and roofs and needed a boost up, or I did; women who simply wanted to hold my hand because they liked me, some women who wanted to hold my hand because they liked me better than anyone.

These were many women?

Yes. many.

What about kissing? Have you kissed any women?

I have kissed many women.

When was the first woman you kissed with serious feeling?

The first woman ever I kissed was Josie, who I had loved at such a distance for months. Josie was not only beautiful, she was tough and handsome too. Josie had black hair and white teeth and strong brown muscles. Then she dropped out of school unexplained. When she came back she came back for one day only, to finish the term, and there was a child in her. She was all shame, pain, and defiance. Her eyes were dark as the water under a bridge and no one would talk to her, they laughed and threw things at her. In the afternoon I walked across the front of the class and looked deep into Josie’s eyes and I picked up her chin with my hand, because I loved her, because nothing like her trouble would ever happen to me, because I hated it that she was pregnant and unhappy, and an outcast. We were thirteen.

You didn’t kiss her?

How does it feel to be thirteen and having a baby?

You didn’t actually kiss her?

Not in fact.

You have kissed other women?

Yes, many, some of the finest women I know, I have kissed. women who were lonely, women I didn’t know and didn’t want to, but kissed because that was a way to say yes we are still alive and loveable, though separate, women who recognized a loneliness in me, women who were hurt, I confess to kissing the top of a 55 year old woman’s head in the snow in boston, who was hurt more deeply than I have ever been hurt, and I wanted her as a very few people have wanted me—I wanted her and me to own and control and run the city we lived in, to staff the hospital I knew would mistreat her, to drive the transportation system that had betrayed her, to patrol the streets controlling the men who would murder or disfigure or disrupt us, not accidently with machines, but on purpose, because we are not allowed on the street alone—

Have you ever committed any indecent acts with women?

Yes, many. I am guilty of allowing suicidal women to die before my eyes or in my ears or under my hands because I thought I could do nothing, I am guilty of leaving a prostitute who held a knife to my friend’s throat because we would not sleep with her, we thought she was old and fat and ugly; I am guilty of not loving her who needed me; I regret all the women I have not slept with or comforted, who pulled themselves away from me for lack of something I had not the courage to fight for, for us, our life, our planet, our city, our meat and potatoes, our love. These are indecent acts, lacking courage, lacking a certain fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra. Yes I have committed acts of indecency with women and most of them were acts of omission. I regret them bitterly.



Bless this day oh cat our house

“I was allowed to go

3 places, growing up,” she said—

“3 places, no more.

there was a straight line from my house

to school, a straight line from my house

to church, a straight line from my house

to the corner store.”

her parents thought something might happen to her.

but nothing ever did.

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me

my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we are the river of life and the fat of the land

death, do you tell me I cannot touch this woman?

if we use each other up

on each other

that’s a little bit less for you

a little bit less for you, ho

death, ho ho death.

Bless this day oh cat our house

help me be not such a mouse

death tells the woman to stay home

and then breaks in the window.

I read this somewhere, I wasnt there:

In feudal Europe, if a woman committed adultery

her husband would sometimes tie her

down, catch a mouse and trap it

under a cup on her bare belly, until

it gnawed itself out, now are you

afraid of mice?



Dressed as I am, a young man once called

me names in Spanish

a woman who talks to death

is a dirty traitor

inside a hamburger joint and

dressed as I am, a young man once called me

names in Spanish

then he called me queer and slugged me.

first I thought the ceiling had fallen down

but there was the counterman making a ham

sandwich, and there was I spread out on his


For God’s sake I said when

I could talk, this guy is beating me up

can’t you call the police or something,

can’t you stop him? he looked up from

working on his sandwich, which was my

sandwich, I had ordered it. He liked

the way I looked. “There’s a pay phone

right across the street” he said.

I couldn’t listen to the Spanish language

for weeks afterward, without feeling the

most murderous of urges, the simple

association of one thing to another,

so damned simple.

The next day I went to the police station

to become an outraged citizen

Six big policemen stood in the hall,

all white and dressed as they do

they were well pleased with my story, pleased

at what had gotten beat out of me, so

I left them laughing, went home fast

and locked my door.

For several nights I fantasized the scene

again, this time grabbing a chair

and smashing it over the bastard’s head,

killing him. I called him a spic, and

killed him. my face healed. his didnt.

no child in me.

now when I remember I think:

maybe he was Josie’s baby.

all the chickens come home to roost,

all of them.



Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I

we left the bar, driving home slow

there was a woman lying in the snow

by the side of the road. She was wearing

a bathrobe and no shoes, where were

her shoes? she had turned the snow

pink, under her feet. she was an Asian

woman, didn’t speak much English, but

she said a taxi driver beat her up

and raped her, throwing her out of his


what on earth was she doing there

on a street she helped to pay for

but doesn’t own?

doesn’t she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I’ve learned

to keep my hands to myself in public

but I was so drunk that night,

I actually did something loving

I took her in my arms, this woman,

until she could breathe right, and

my friends are perverts too

they touched her too

we all touched her.

“You’re going to be all right”

we lied. She started to cry

“I’m 55 years old” she said

and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call

no child in them.

they seemed afraid to touch her,

then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her

on their metal stretcher into the van,

crashing and clumsy.

She was more frightened than before.

they were cold and bored.

‘don’t leave me’ she said.

‘she’ll be all right’ they said.

we left, as we have left all of our lovers

as all lovers leave all lovers

much too soon to get the real loving done.



a mock interrogation

Why did you get into the cab with him, dressed as you are?

I wanted to go somewhere.

Did you know what the cab driver might do

if you got into the cab with him?

I just wanted to go somewhere.

How many times did you

get into the cab with him?

I dont remember.

If you dont remember, how do you know it happened to you?



Hey you death

ho and ho poor death

our lovers teeth are white geese flying above us

our lovers muscles are rope ladders under our hands

even though no women yet go down to the sea in ships

except in their dreams.

only the arrogant invent a quick and meaningful end

for themselves, of their own choosing.

everyone else knows how very slow it happens

how the woman’s existence bleeds out her years,

how the child shoots up at ten and is arrested and old

how the man carries a murderous shell within him

and passes it on.

we are the fat of the land, and

we all have our list of casualties

to my lovers I bequeath

the rest of my life

I want nothing left of me for you, ho death

except some fertilizer

for the next batch of us

who do not hold hands with you

who do not embrace you

who try not to work for you

or sacrifice themselves or trust

or believe you, ho ignorant

death, how do you know

we happened to you?

wherever our meat hangs on our own bones

for our own use

your pot is so empty

death, ho death

you shall be poor

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