Ismene in a Twelve Step Programme

I can tell you about powerlessness

step one

knowing it is going to happen and being able to do nothing

Antigone chooses to die rather than survive abuse

pinned down his sweat dripping in my face

saying you may as well enjoy it

something severed it

wasn’t love and sex it was abuse from love

he didn’t love me

all my abusers before that had loved me

I dreamt I was walking through the rubble of my family home

seeking shelter there

I loved them that is what children do

consequences of knowing things I could not believe

I had sex again with him to make him feel

I could have learnt

not spent a life trying to make my abusers love me

if I’d been able to be present

my boyfriend’s parting words it’s not the same

he came back thirty-three years later

said he could have dealt with it better

believing it I knew it was not true

sitting on the steps of ourselves

cleaning my feet

constantly re-traumatising each other

I did my best not to survive it

meet and repeat the annihilation in addiction

I am here because I know about a life time of refusal

I dreamt I was painting

I wasn’t in control of my medium and I had the wrong brushes

you don’t have to believe to pray

survival is the radical act

wasn’t I reason enough for her to stay alive

what is survivable resistance

Polynices was already dead

I know the Greek Tragedy thing once it is set in motion it must play out

but I’m still here to feel the sun on my body and the water to witness my blaring heart

my abuser was giving me admission

something my family could never give me

I have to grip the arms of my chair to stay present

I use sex to avoid intimacy

did she love Polynices more than life

is that love

she made him her god

I get that she felt like he was irreplaceable

what was I

but so was she


I could bury my dead in private

she needed it to be seen by other 

is to survive it to comply

she died to what they call sanity logic law so I could live

she covered up that the first burial was mine

I couldn’t stay in the house with Creon

I took off

got as far as Sydney before I met someone

we swam drank had lots of sex moved on to the next beach whenever we wanted

a job at a magazine the editor had sent everyone out

lying on a hot rock by black water

the sound of metal bowls being placed on the ground

I am left I am what is left

my body a bargain with presence

where things move in the breeze

it was the gaze of the train

the inevitability

the lake hollows the sound of voices

From Claire Gaskin’s collection, Ismene’s Survivable Resistance.