Leah Horlick, 96 pgs, Caitlin Press, leahhorlick.com, $18
Leah Horlick was 19 years old when her girlfriend first sexually assaulted her. This violent relationship bred trauma, shame, and more abusive partners. For years, Leah feared talking about the abuse in the face of callous rebukes (“it’s not like she hit you”) and an internal voice that worried about what the admittance of abuse in a queer relationship would do to the reputation of the community. She searched for support literature in the queer community for survivors of abuse and came up empty-handed. And so Leah wrote. She wrote for herself and for other queer survivors of partner abuse. The result is For Your Own Good, a brave and heartbreaking work of self-realization and ultimately self-love.
The poems wind and swell their way through the firsts of a new relationship into the dark corners of control, abuse, denial and ultimately survival. The first cycle, “Vanishing Act,” charts the joys and fears of discovery. The lines are taut and clever, “Your mouth is for lipstick and thumb for hitchhiking, never/ at the same time.” Others gentle and nostalgic, “You are still among the firsts, trying/yes, and women, and each other.”
By the next two cycles, the darkness of the relationship has emerged and dominates. The struggle to admit what was going on charges the poems with a unrelenting struggle — a terrible Catch 22: “If she hurt you enough for you to leave,/she wouldn’t have to be one. One of them./ You. But you stayed, and she’s still one of them.” It isn’t until the fourth cycle “Descent” that the word rape appears. Shortly after, Horlick writes, “Dinosaur/ vertebrae — like you, something so old, and so big, once/ I can hardly believe it existed.”
In putting into words the depth and density of trauma suffered by queer victims of rape and sexual abuse, Horlick refuses to let suffering go unnoticed nor crimes unspoken. She does not, as she once feared, betray the queer community, but rather raises a hand in solitary calling for safety, love and respect for all. (Megan Clark)