In a wave both disturbing and necessary, sexual assault—an old, pervasive, societal ill—has taken over the news cycle. Dozens of women have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, more than 200 said filmmaker James Toback harassed them, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson—repeatedly accused of harassment by models he worked with—was finally blacklisted by Condé Nast. Meanwhile, women from all walks of life have shared their own experiences with harassment, assault, and rape.
It feels like the lid might finally be off of Pandora’s box—and there’s no putting the truth back inside.
Yrsa Daley-Ward, a British poet of Jamaican and Nigerian descent, has experienced her share of harassment and objectification. She has also written about it in her deeply personal, uncomfortably honest collection of poems, bone. One poem in particular, which gives the collection its title, describes several episodes of sexual abuse perpetrated by different predators.
Daley-Ward captures not the violence per se, but the dreadful, mundane interactions that follow such assaults: the woman’s sorrow and silence contrasted with the abuser’s casual words and actions.
Abuse like this is all the more horrifying when treated like an invisible tear in the fabric of life—violence that forever alters one life is followed by small talk and, at most, fleeting guilt from the other.
“It’s a shared experience that a lot of women have,” Daley-Ward says, adding that sexual violence “is particularly topical now, but it’s been going on since the beginning of time.”
Drawing from her multicultural heritage, Daley-Ward also says that such sexism is “the same beast everywhere,” crossing both cultures and continents.
Because of this prevalence, Daley-Ward is aware that her work might be difficult for women who have experienced assault. But she believes that “things can be re-lived in a healthy way,” including by sharing the experiences, however traumatic, with other victims.
“It’s all about the connection,” she says. “When you speak about something and you connect with many other people, you feel less alone.”
by Yrsa Daley-Ward
who says, “Don’t cry.
You’ll like it after a while.”
and Two who tells you thank-you
after the fact and can’t look at your face.
To Three who pays for your breakfast
and a cab home
and your mother’s rent.
“But you felt so good
I didn’t know how to stop.”
To Five who says giving your body
but something you do very well.
Who smells of tobacco
and says “Come on, I can feel that
you love this.”
To those who feel bad in the morning yes,
some feel bad in the morning
and sometimes they tell you
you want it
and sometimes you think that you do.
Thank heavens you’re resetting
How else do you sew up the tears?
How else can the body survive?
From BONE by Yrsa Daley-Ward, published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Listen to Yrsa Daley-Ward read her poem.