diode v9n1



All the Good Women are Gone

Have you ever cried during an interview
because you started talking about your family,
or while serving tables in Virginia
when a man’s hand lands on your ass.
Have you ever had your boyfriend
tell you he wanted to go celibate,
which meant no kissing or holding hands,
or ever been pulled over for tailgating
a cop who called you stupid,
to which you agreed.
Have you ever been 9 weeks pregnant,
barely able to pay for your tiny apartment,
and searching for something,
anything, you don’t know what,
amidst sites asking
Where are all the good women?
Why do they sin?
They’ll take your money and break your heart
and you think good but feel sick.
The pill you order
arrives in a yellow envelope.
It looks like it came from someone’s basement,
and you cramp for days.
The bleeding never stops, not like on your period.
When you pull down your underwear,
a blood clot falls onto the bathroom floor
of the gas station.
This is when you are driving west
and you ask your phone:
Does coffee make anxiety worse?
What are to-be verbs?
How long will 18 mg of Adderall last?
How to stop yourself from crying?
Answer: distract yourself with pain.
Sink your nails into your thighs.
Slam your hand in a car door.
Slap your jaw with a tightened fist
and laugh at how easy it used to be
to make yourself cry on purpose.
All you had to do was think
about your dog dying someday
and now you think about your dog dying
two years ago and there is nothing.
There is nothing
until you leave the bathroom
and the man behind the counter says
Slow down, child. At least buy yourself
a pretzel melt first
Then, perhaps, there is something.

I want to break open

the moment
you lost
your mother
your memories
cut open
the day
your blood
soaked through
onto the plastic chair
in sex ed
where Anja
said the vagina
was self-cleaning
an oven
she saw it on Oprah
you came home
and your mother
bent you
the tampon
for you
your body
not yet yours
artifact of pain
budding weapon
the never-healing wound

Museum of Menstruation

My aunt didn’t understand how tampons worked.
She was worried one would take my cousin’s virginity.
When she and my mother were growing up
they used cotton rags and strips of linen
folded over their underwear.
These were left in a bucket overnight
and scrubbed the next morning–
the rose water puckered their skin,
peeled their fingers. 

The morning I got my period,
my mother didn’t believe me.
She turned over and fell back asleep.
I used rolled-up toilet paper for weeks
until one day in the 6th grade
my blood left a quarter-sized stain,
a wetness on my fingers.

In the 1980s menstruation mystified
NASA engineers. They asked Sally Ride
if 100 tampons would be enough
for a week in space. During press conferences,
she fielded questions about how being weightless
in orbit would affect her reproductive organs
and if she wept every time
her uterine walls shed its inner linings.

Menstruation remained a mystery
to me for over half a decade.
I’d lock myself in the bathroom for hours
and read the paper instructions
that come with every box of tampons,
still unsure how and where to insert one.  

My aunt’s fear was misplaced.
I lost my virginity to a real
flesh and bone boy before any bullet
of absorbent cotton or synthetic fibers
ever entered my body.

I was drunk and on my period.
It was on the floor of a stranger’s living room
and it was dark. No one saw the blood
on the carpet until the next morning.  

One of my first times was in the woods
squatted against a tree. My friends
and I were on the way to meet some older boys
at the falls and I inserted
the plastic applicator with vigor.

In high school all the girls
spoke in whispers,
in code: shark week, crimson wave,
blood diamond, Aunt Flo.

Years later,
I snuck tampons up my sleeve
or beneath my bra’s underwire
before walking past all the men
in my office.

The gynecologist tells me I have too much estrogen–
that’s why I bleed so much so frequently.
Often twice a month. 

When I tell the 31-year-old
I’m sleeping with that I’m bleeding,
he tells me he doesn’t care.
I make him cover his face with a pillow
while I tug at the knot between my legs
until I feel it give way,
my body letting go: kite string,
lucky rabbit’s foot.  


Susan Nguyen hails from Virginia but currently lives in the desert, where she is at work on her MFA in poetry at Arizona State University. Her work has previously appeared in PANK and she recently received a Global Teaching Fellowship from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.