for jessica chambers
Forsake repercussions, unawake, baked,
pajama pants relapse naps means undiscussed
Sunday visits to your big brother’s grave,
where you’re, months later, laid though still just
a teenager — danger addicted, meth
crack, weed. Dominant boys enjoy what wet need
rides them, reclined passenger seat. Death
threats with hammers for your drug dealing greed,
placebo Lortabs purchased at Fred’s
Pharmacy, OTC to sell. Day you
die you have sex for Taco Bell, it’s said
snide, side-eye emojied, by bloggers who
may never be this destitute, demeaned
to sell a starving skeleton, nineteen.
This sonnet is a part of my book The Stakes which discusses fire being used against women historically as a tool of misogyny. This poem is about Jessica Chambers, a 19 year old Mississippi woman who the same night she will have sex with a man, perhaps for Taco Bell, will be burned alive in her car. The book will be published by APEP 2020.
An Artistic Statement About The Stakes:
As a child I was sure I would die by fire. My father was a firefighter who abused me and used that specific fear, among others, to control. He told me graphic stories of fires and burned corpses in gory details I still remember though I was far too young for this kind of information. I was far too young for a lot of horrors, psychological and physical, to which I was exposed.
The Stakes begins as an exploration of my own journey with fire and abuse and the conflation of these themes in my life. Having details and images of being burned alive so ingrained upon my brain I read a lot about the subject of burning at the stake, for example, very young. Boston Accent Lit published a poem I wrote about this period of my life called The Firefighter’s Daughter, http://www.bostonaccentlit.com/garth .
While my obsession with the subject of death by fire, and specifically female death by fire, began with my own abuse, I quickly learned how privileged I was in comparison to the women I read about. Though I had nightmares of being burned regularly, I never was. The women I read about — like Joan of Arc, the women accused of witchcraft or lesser crimes that resulted in a stake, they suffered my nightmares as reality. Reading their stories made me humbled and angry for my gender, clearly disproportionately punished with fire and threats of fire.
The book also looks at an arson I lived through as an adult while I was a topless dancer. This crime was a realization of my worst childhood fears — though I was not burned myself. Someone burned down the home I rented, murdered my pet cat. The landlord of the house was viewed as a suspect as well as a boy I had dated but no one was ever charged. Though a flame never touched my physical body, it destroyed what I loved, so many of my souvenirs of a life and a beautiful animal. It was someone’s cruel punishment that haunts me over 20 years later.
I still read stories of women who have died by fire today. Two nineteen year olds were burned alive within just the last five years; one was in Bangladesh and one was in Mississippi. One, Nusrat Rafi, resulted in the conviction of sixteen defendants for her burning and the other, Jessica Chambers resulted in two mistrials. (The sonnet Addiction, published in Taco Bell Quarterly, is about some of the coverage of Jessica Chamber’s murder and the way her body and her choices/motivations were attacked even after her death.)
It was my reading the stories of these two young women, Nusrat and Jessica, post a childhood of flame-filled horror stories, an adult brush with fire that compelled me to author The Stakes.
My cumulative take on this subject in all its iterations spelled out in The Stakes is that fire is a weapon used more often against women by men and society throughout the ages to punish and destroy. Writing about the use of fire as a more appropriate capital punishment method for women refers to considerations like the modesty of the body. So while a man in England might have been hung for a crime like counterfeiting, a woman would be subjected to the far more brutal, painful punishment of the stake.
This punishment, be it state sanctioned capital punishment or an individual act of violence against women, seems a response to the power of female bodies in a patriarchal society. The Stakes is a collection of poetry that seeks to speak back to the flames and the misogynistic arms that have wielded them against women for far too long.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net & Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker. Her sonnets have stalked journals like Glass, Yes, Five:2:One, Luna Luna and more. She is the author of fourteen books of poetry including Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir (The Hedgehog Poetry Press), the forthcoming Flutter: Southern Gothic Fever Dream (TwistiT Press), The Meadow (APEP Publications) and Shut Your Eyes, Succubi (Maverick Duck). Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie) and her website http://kristingarth.com