How to Be a Woman in a Man’s Idea

by Heather Dorn

I fall down the stairs like a rag doll

again and again when I’m four.

The hat rack breaks my body’s tumble

and I thump to a stop. Nobody ever

moves that hat rack, maybe worried

I’d crack headfirst into the wall instead.

Better to be impaled. There is something


slippery about being four and next to the steps

in my house. There is something

that still pushes me over the edge

of that first step now. I have seen how

this is inherited. I watched my brother

bang his three year old head into

concrete over and over again. He is too


sturdy to fall down the stairs and has to

break himself another way instead. I see

my mother’s face, like blue ink spilled

on her eyes. She did not fall, whatever

she says. I watch my father’s fist raise

above her, gripped, as if he held the pen

that would ink her face. There is something


hopeful about being a woman in a man’s

story. Step fathers like to stare and I learn

there is a violence that is quietly louder. There is

something that still pushes at the edges of

comfort when men talk to me. As if the switch

reads: “Medusa/ Kitten.” There is something

about the way my father’s lamb was not done right

and when Janay Rice apologizes and people suddenly care,

I remember how much like brushing my teeth it felt, sitting

at the top of the stairs, listening to my mother cry.


And I never knew when later step-he’s would come

into my dark room or bend my body

on the couch as I half-slept or grab the back

of my head in his palm, gathering the hair

like a twisted ponytail, pushing me lower.


I fall down like a doll, over and over, there is

something slippery about being a woman

in a man’s idea. If he says Hi, I want


to tell him screw off! But if he tells me

Watch where the hell you’re going! my instinct


is to follow him home purring,

and beg to curl at his feet.

Wait til he’s asleep, then

take a sharp, deep, slice at his throat

and crawl back street side.

Heather Dorn is the Director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, a literary non-profit that runs free poetry workshops, contests, readings, and anthology publication for local voices. She is graduating with her PhD in English, Creative Writing Poetry from Binghamton University in Spring 2016. Her work can be found in Festival Writer, Helen, Metonym, and The Paterson Literary Review.

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