ISSUE THIRTEEN | FALL 2019
the most beautiful thing was white people
dancing on tv. the girls in american high school novels
always talked about dancing –
the first time i felt the pulse
of my body, i was eight in the living room,
my hips learning
their girlish music.
my father came down the stairs:
oi! don’t do that! that’s sex! and i never heard
my hips sing again. i wanted to be reborn
in america, open under some colder
sky. a group of people swaying their bodies
is a ritual. an invitation
to be blessed.
the first time i learned my body
was an offering
i held it in my groundward toes.
in high school, the dance instructor only used me
to fill the back row. you’re just not
a very good dancer. i wanted to direct
his gaze to the years
i begged my mother
to put me in ballet classes.
i was never
a very good dancer.
to be desired, the body has to forget
itself. i could never.
the first time a man wanted my body i tried
to forget it. if i wouldn’t swallow, he would
sulk. does the pull out method work?
i don’t know, only that i didn’t
get pregnant those two years
and protection meant i didn’t love him
enough. language was invented to make
prophecy and keep inventory – every interaction is prediction
or cataloguing. maybe orgasm is both,
divining the power of a body
asked to speak
a language it never learned,
my body was used as barter. i never learned thrashing
could be response.
in the american novels, girls talked about giving
the joy of your body to a man. it always happened
after some school dance. and so my inability to dance
meant i was not ready to gift. i could not thrash.
i never said yes.
if we were taught to think about penis
as enlarged clitoris, he might have given me
himself. i still don’t know what the chinese call
clitoris. maybe female pleasure is for white girls
who place their bodies forefront. years later, i started to demand
opened my legs
to the rapturous state
of dancing in my room alone
to blondie. a moan comes
from where all want begins
to seek escape.
i learned to dance late, from the spanish girl
who wrapped me by the waist,
held her hips to mine
and said follow me.
gently, our hips curving
with the front-back step,
in her my first
Janelle Tan was born in Singapore and lives in Brooklyn. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Nat. Brut, The Boiler, Bodega, and elsewhere. She is an MFA candidate at New York University, Web Editor for Washington Square Review, and reads for Perugia Press.
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