Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Upon Hearing that Monica Lewinsky is Speaking Out.

When I heard the news that Monica Lewinsky was speaking out, I had mixed feelings. Mainly, I now have a strange almost maternal instinct to protect her.

I wrote this poem in the voice of Monica Lewinsky (below) probably ten years ago. In many ways, it isn't really about Monica as much as it is about a loss of innocence, about who we once were -- each of us -- and who we are now. 
As time goes on, I see Monica as someone beyond the scandal, and I want her to be regarded with empathy. I want people to be able accept that we are each complex and deep; and, too, more and more, I see the internet as a giant global machinery for bullying. It's fascinating that she's able to see herself in the larger history of the internet now, too. There is a new collective culpability about how we treat each other in this noisy global town square. 
Here is the poem. (My apologies for layout.)

Monica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in front of a Hotel Mirror

We will watch each other age
in front of cameras, in newsprint,

a public decay. It’s already started.
Look at my new sway;

my body seems more ample
among the miniature shampoos,

the thin rectangles of wrapped soaps.
Look at the pale shifting of my skin

under the red eye of the ticking heat lamp.
And I’ve noticed your hair’s gone white,

your face loosening.
                             I’m shocked

how you can still appear --
not televised, not some public memory

of the two of us swimming valiantly --
but the intimacy of teeth, 

                        breath and breathing.
And I carry you sometimes

                        for a day or two,
like a bird hidden in a pocket

                        and I imagine
that you know how I live.

            And while the bird shifts
and rustles and keeps one wet eye

on my life, I am more purposeful.
I stride.

            But today you see me here, naked,
standing in front of this hotel mirror.

You are someone who knew me before
I was the world’s collective joke

about cigars, thongs, stained dresses,
when I was a girl named Monica.

I miss her much more than I miss you.

[This poem was first printed in Crab Orchard Review, reprinted in The Mind's Eye (Longman), and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog at The Atlantic.com. It can be found in the collection Lizzie Borden in Love: Poems in Women's Voices.]