killing us

by heather a. davis

(content warning: this submission contains themes of intimate partner violence)

I wrote this piece during my PhD research as a call to action during a period of time working in the community on intimate partner violence and abuse (IPVA) issues. As I began to understand the politicized nature of IPVA, and, therefore, of the body, I began focusing on structural and causal factors, codified policies and practices, and the profound effect of intergroup dynamics (such as group norm enforcement) that allow the perpetuation of violence begetting violence. 

Although my work does not conceive of the body as binary, the framing of violence in this poem as passing from the male body to the female body was intentional. This framing was designed to focus on the type of abuse I was witnessing in the groups in which I was involved. 

As an artist, I have found that, sometimes, a spoken word poem can have much more impact on intended audiences than an academic text can. I am also a researcher who strongly believes in community co-production, particularly for work that is representing community members’ daily experiences. In this case, I felt it was more effective to write and perform poetry to connect with those who harm and who are being harmed within my local community, and to acknowledge and bring awareness to the disproportionate health impacts that IPVA has in the marginalized populations in which I live. 

Solutions for IPVA have been equally politicized and codified, and yet IPVA remains “unsolved,” like many issues related to the “injusticed” body. This poem tries to tackle that as well. 

I won my first amateur poetry slam with this poem. I also went on to create a series on my community radio show regarding IPVA and the placement of art in approaching that issue, all of which featured heavily in my presentations on this topic at the 2018 American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans.

They’re killing our men
And our men are killing us
They walk out the door and don’t know if they’ll make it through the day
We roll over in bed and don’t know if we’ll make it through the hour

We raise our men to be tough, to check their emotions on waking
Don’t be weak, don’t take any shit, be respectful to other men just in case the police come
From school to prison we shape that pipeline to an unbendable, only breakable cause
We, women, are the breakable

They’re stripping our men of dignity
And our men are stripping us of love
In their powerlessness outside the door
The core of #resistance lies in our bodies and minds
Bodies good for only fucking and gawking
Minds goods for only mirroring ego destruction
They don’t exist, so we don’t exist

They are turning our men against us
And our men are turning us against each other
To make a name for themselves, to have some money, to labor and release
They release themselves on us and in us, without connection
Or connection so intangible, we have forgotten what it’s like to not tolerate bullshit

They are making our men desperate for hope
And our men are making us hopeless
Cheated out of opportunity, our men cheat us out of themselves
Or cheat on us or with us and discard us
Where one woman ‘wins,’ another loses, a false economy of a man’s unrecognized fear

They are taking our men’s lives
And our men are taking their lives from us
And still we stand, as women always have
At the foot of the cross
Where men betrayed each other

Heather A. Davis is a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Geography PhD candidate. She is a Pushcart-nominated, award-winning writer and literary/spoken word poet (as part of the 5th Woman collective). She also produces and hosts her own community radio show, Knox Community Well Be, on Knoxville’s community radio station, WOZO Radio, 103.9 FM. She has spent her career working in community activism, communications, public affairs, and research, in the US and abroad. Her work has appeared in The Pigeon Parade Quarterly, Liquid Imagination, the Knoxville Mercury, American Diversity Report, the Knoxville Writers Guild, and the National Academy of Medicine’s Visualize Health Equity project, among others.