**Content Warning:** This story contains depictions of and allusions to the abuse of vulnerable populations, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQA+, and children of abusive parents, and may contain content that some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
I’m excited to share and feature 4 poems by Jordan Pace. You may know him by his Twitter or his new book Perfectly Imperfect. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jordan as a fellow author in the Writing Community and through Coffee House Writers. I love these poems, and found myself paying special attention to ASerpent’s Kiss as I broke down the complete experiences described. That said, I’m going to save my personal interpretation of each poem and what I took away from it until after. Without further ado, let’s begin.
We sat side by side It felt as if we were miles apart. Our cups dangled With our feet; We watched as waves crashed against walls. We talked for hours, Our words felt like whispers Was he hiding something? I couldn’t tell The breeze so strong The faint smell of salt air Losing my reason to care I leaned forward, my full intention to fall He caught me, his cup staring with an inviting glare I arrived at it, A feeling of curiosity washing over me Why does his coffee have no flavor? I look back again I wonder When did this space get so empty? Who was I talking to all this time?
The waterside imagery steals me away and I, too, am sitting on that retaining wall, feeling detached from the person I am with – wondering if I knew them this whole time. The metaphor of time and conversation to waves eroding the relationship and details of the scene overtime hits me in a soft underbelly place I haven’t thought about in a while.
Lonely, I am fine, quiet inside. a war rages on the other side. there are cracks in my armor, No perfect men wear armor. You, My imperfection, a variable I cannot account for. Your slithering, salty, sinking words burrow into me, like a bullet lodged in a dead man’s chest A bullet Cannot be pulled out without care. I keep it there. Holding fast to what remains of you, unaware of its effects. I see you in places you did not exist, a bad dream fades into reality. As I lay on the bed, there is nothing left to say. I knew the risk and how it would end. You watch over me, a serpent’s gaze. Has the poison taken effect?
The narrator first begins with a self assessment – he is an imperfect man: a perfect man would need no armor. Worse yet, his armor has cracks that left him vulnerable to abuse in this mind trick of self blame.
As the narrator continues to describe this ex-abuser as a venomous snake, it becomes obvious how appropriate the comparison is. Some relationships are toxic like venom, leaving lasting wounds in the form of trauma. He holding it both intentionally and against his will.
But the narrator in the poem suffers the lasting effects of the relationship even if everything seems quiet on the surface. The lasting trauma is described as a “bullet lodged in a dead man’s chest” implying the depth of despair and destruction felt surrounding the trauma.
The last 3 lines may be the most impacting. “I knew the risk and how it would end.” The narrator describes the gut feeling paired with the inability to resist the relationship. It could be argued that with the comparison of the ex to a serpent, the narrator was hypnotized. “You watch over me, a serpent’s gaze.” The last line closes the poem with the hardest question of all – that of intent. “Has the poison taken effect?” Did the abuser intend this all along? Is this what they wanted?
Excuse me, baby, I’m tired, your hips swing with energy to light my world for eons. Excuse my language, But I think you’re a dime, a definite “jack of all trades” when it comes to working Excuse me for entering your life, Then exiting, by mistake
Apologetically, there are short lived relationships that can feel bought or traded. The narrator then mentions leaving unintentionally, apologetically, even though there is nothing wrong with the other party. There are many layers of guilt here.
I WAS CREATED TO BE YOU
You cannot relate to my pain- molded by fires, created through some ultimate desire. A mold, I was left to fill your desires and when it did not work, I was told to simply “get over it.” My world is torn asunder; my life unraveled.
Years of work and effort made to seem like less than the step forward it truly was.
All because it didn’t work for you? Was I never considered in your equation? Was I even ever a variable?
Lots of these things, I will never, ever know, but one thing’s for sure: I may have to spend the rest of my life defining myself.
To me, this poem screams of the struggles of the effects of a narcissistic relationship. I interpreted this as a parent-child relationship and what I call “bonsai children”. Bonsai children grow up with parents who carefully shape and mold every aspect of their lives so they are more like ornaments to benefit the parent more than individuals.
About Jordan Pace
Jordan Pace’s book Perfectly Imperfect is available for purchase here in paperback and on kindle. You can keep up with their writing on Coffee House Writers here. To keep most up to date, you can follow them on Twitter.
What did you think of these interpretations? Do you agree? Disagree? Did you find different meaning that I didn’t find? Let me know in the comments! Do you want to see more of these posts? Let me know by liking this post or commenting below.
As always, thank you for reading. Remember to keep supporting artists and authors during these crazy times.
This review is going to be a little bit different for a couple of reasons. First, I received this book from the author after receiving an email asking if I would read it and consider reviewing it on my website and in my LiveTweet format. Upon reviewing a summary and the website my answer was a resounding yes. This was my answer because the author is not alone. It was good to know that I’m not alone.
Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):
In her memoir “But I Am Here” Bettencourt uses prose poems and free verse poetry to tell the story of her abuse, how it impacted her life, still impacts her life, her attempts to get help, and when she had to make the choice to tell her husband and the world.
The book begins with reflection as an adult, then transports the reader into the mind of a child. In each section the reader lives through Bettencourt’s eyes as she tells these stories without ever using names. Each section concludes with a reflection on the experience from the adult perspective based new insight gained through healing.
In this powerful, moving memoir I ache for the author and her experiences. I feel very passionate about protecting children and helping those that are survivors of sexual abuse. The author does not use complex language, nor does she need to. She hides information appropriately to ensure that the reader experiences each moment the way she experienced it. This amplifies the experience of the book.
I found I had to take several breaks due to the intensity of the material. The book does not hide its content warning. It’s on the front cover. There are resources in the back for those that read it and need help processing any emotions or past trauma that may come up while reading the book. All of this is extremely well thought out.
The amount of vulnerability involved in this writing and the amount of information shared by the author is incomparable to books like “Helping Her Get Free” or “Perfect Daughters” due to the accessibility of the information. Both of these books discuss forms of abuse experienced in childhood and how that shapes adult behaviors with heavy analysis. In contrast, Bettencourt brings the reader inside her own head. We are guided through her thoughts and experiences overtime to see how she got into each head space without going into the academic view point beyond helpful information any reader can understand. This makes the book accessible to a very broad audience.
I am sad that more was not mentioned about the experience of disclosure to loved ones. I believe that part of the purpose of the book was the disclosure. This is both painful and makes complete sense.
In terms of my own personal experiences and what the book brought up for me, I will be brief. For survivors of childhood sexual assault/abuse it is a hard read, but I felt a deep connection. The book takes great care in the reflections shared to connect with the reader’s experiences and own journey, whether these realizations be new or old. It does not try to explain the realizations – they can all be explained to the reader on their own journey by the resources in the back or through therapy.
“But I Am Here” is a painful, beautiful read. Reality is stranger than fiction and child sexual abusers are a great example.
I believe this book is absolutely relevant to anyone, including members of the LGBTQA+ community, who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There is no mention of LGBTQA+ individuals in the book, but this does not impact my opinion on this matter.
Grammar & Punctuation
There are a few spelling errors that can easily be corrected in future printings of the book. These errors do not interrupt the overall reading experience.
For More Information On Getting Help
You can visit online.rainn.org or call 1-800-856-4673 (US) – these are mentioned in the back of the book.
Want To Read More About The Author? You can visit the book’s website here. For each copy of the book sold through the publisher’s website the publisher will donate $1 to the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. You can follow the author on Twitter here.