Not Quite Medusa
At twenty-two, silver strands
slither from my scalp, proof of
my own mortality, or monstrosity,
or both. I am not quite Medusa
but close. My heart, not my eyes,
turns others to stone. Five years
after the fact, and I still need
reminding: None of it was your
fault. Images replay and rearrange
themselves, snapshots of my
serpentine body at seventeen,
his grandmother’s bed, that
soundless syllable trapped in
my throat like a single grape.
In my memory, the boy-turned-man-
turned-statue hurls commands at
my shivering, not-yet-shimmering
self: Swallow this. Spit that out.
In the grainy video clip, the middle-aged male
therapist calls his anorexic adolescent client
‘pretty’, hands her this descriptor like a garishly
wrapped gift. She smiles weakly because what
else would she do, what else do we do, what else
can I do when a man slaps me with his seal of
approval? I’ve lost count of all the older men
who’ve turned my cheeks to peonies, who’ve
reduced me to a puddle of giggles and skin.
I am not proud of my submission. I am not
proud that my protests are always small and
insubstantial: a quiet comeback, a private poem.
How tempting it is to curl my body into a
crescent moon. How delicious it feels to sink
into the shadows, to write these words for
no one but myself. Consider this our secret his-
tory. Consider this my goddamn gospel hymn.
Kate Kadleck is a recent graduate of Kenyon College, where she studied psychology, English, and women’s and gender studies. She is currently pursuing her master’s in marriage and family therapy at Northwestern University, just outside Chicago.