The Altar of Trust
“Don’t you trust us?” you asked on the phone,
Your voice dripping with ridicule and blame.
And I, the child who learned when small
To put your emotions ahead of my own needs
In order to feel somewhat safe, said, “Yes.”
But that was a lie constructed to appease you.
It was far, far from my own truth.
Yes, there was a time when I trusted you,
When I felt I had no other choice
Because I was your child
And my survival depended upon you.
I offered up my trust on the altar of
My outstretched and upturned hands
On the cool tiles of the kitchen floor
My gaze riveted on your face and your hand.
The Whippin’ Stick was lifted up over your head
Your face was twisted with effort, rage, glee
Your eyes feverhot with revenge as the instant froze –
And I wondered, as I shook and hoped it would never resume,
What was wrong with me to deserve the descent.
And then the Whippin’ Stick whooshed down
With a cheery, tricksome whistle, and slammed into
That tremulous, helpless altar of trust
Hot stinging pain redly jolted from my palms
And into my soul as your arm lifted again – and again-
And yet again.
Each time I was required to offer up the altar
To remain still, else risk fingers or knuckles
To allow the impact, the wounds unseen
To balance my sobs, because too many or too few
Meant more blows, more rage, more glee.
And, always, beside me as the Whippin Stick
battered my palms and the altar of trust
Was the gleaming china hutch, meticulously finished by hand
And the complete set of fragile dishware
Displayed, but never used.
Another altar was the plump innocence of my cheek
My lips that loved to smile, my mouth full of words
When you deemed one “disrespectful”, with no warning at all
Hard backhand slap pressing lips into teeth,
Rocking my head, shaking my trust, saying
In the scarlet print of your hand on that altar-cheek
That I could not trust my own voice and mind.
My father, whom you included in your scornful
“Don’t you trust us?”
That same father, once held a thin dowel clenched in
His white knuckled hand. It sang a high
And sinister song as it violated
The clenched altar of my shamefully bared behind
The red welts my only reward for the sacrifice of my flesh.
Years have passed since you asked, and I lied
I’ve been a woman far longer that I was a child.
And yet, still, that father felt that he had some right
To shove his finger into my face,
Pressing my lip against a sharp tooth
As though I was his property, and not
A living being belonging only to myself.
Do I trust you?
No, I do not.
I wish that it were not so, but there it is.
You had my trust for so many years
Offered up on my flesh and in my soul
With blows and hard words
Ridicule and manipulation
You chiseled and hammered at it
Until there was nothing left to attack
And I walked away.
It’s not that I don’t understand
That far worse happened to the two of you
Or that I blame you for being so broken
That you broke a child you loved.
You knew when you struck me how being hit felt
What it was to be attacked by those you so loved
And I believe it was they you were hitting
When you pounded away at my helpless trust.
And, each time you went for stick or dowel
Screamed, “I’ll smack you into next Sunday!”
Yanked my hair or raised weapon against me
You chose revenge over love.
And that china cupboard still sits
Upon that same bit of kitchen floor
Mute witness, unscuffed and unscratched
Each dish still perfect, pristine, unchipped
Never knowing anything but the gentlest touch.
Perhaps if I was a china dish painted in birds
Or a hand- stained and varnished hutch
Treasured and awarded a place of honor
In your lives, rather than being “just a kid”
You believe owes you unending trust,
Trust you have long since beaten out of me –
Perhaps then, I could trust you.
As I am, I cannot.