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A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown by Abbigail N. Rosewood


Abbigail N. Rosewood’s flash fiction piece “A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown” explores the intriguing process by which a girl “becomes,” how she is simultaneously, as Rosewood says in her accompanying author’s note, “made and unmade” by the experiences and influences which surround her. The narrative centers around the young female protagonist and her friend encountering pornography for the first time. Raw, visceral, evocative, violent—what they see cannot be unseen. It forever changes the trajectory of how they view themselves as sexual beings in a world that no longer appears to soothe them.

There is a certain lyricism to Rosewood’s prose that lingers with the reader well beyond the page. Her use of anaphora and white space not only create texture, but also add dimension and complexity to the narrative’s overall structure. As is common in transnational literature, Rosewood employs authorial digressions to further enhance the message this piece wishes to convey. Although writers are often encouraged to show rather than tell, Rosewood manages to blend the two with great skill and mastery.  —CRAFT


Content Warning—implication of sexual violence


 

A girl is trained first and foremost to satiate and please, to induce salivation from:

boys,
men,
priests,
teachers,
plumbers,
fathers,
brothers,
dogs,
occasionally horses.

 

A girl is trained to survive others’ pleasures, others’ desires, her own saliva flooding the roof of her mouth and the back of her throat in anticipation, in fear of rupture, of an invasion acute and total.

 

A girl learns to decipher her own wetness as a weakness, a way to cope.

She wriggles and writhes when a strange hand fans its fingers over her body.

Her whole body, an enormous droplet.

 

A girl secretes so much that she could almost believe she wants this. She moans to hear herself want it. She believes it now. A girl is trained to lie to herself. Over and over and over. Her body a tundra of despair, but for a long time, a very long time, she won’t know it.

 

&

 

People are surprised when the girl tells them she had her first orgasm at six years old. A girl smells sex when she is still in her crib, the aroma of violence and sorrow concentrated between her father’s legs. The first man in her life has communicated. A girl understands her own desire as being able to release the desire of another. Peace and safety are to be earned, but first she must try to empty the body nearest to her own, relieve its tension. A girl doesn’t learn that tension renews and renews, returns and returns in lapses, in waves, its silence merely a deception, a sleeping volcano.

A girl is grown in this way like a poem is grown, misty with illusions, revolting with itself against truths, brief moments of clarity—a trick.

 

&

 

She is very much a girl. In fact, such is the essence of her heroism. The girl and her friend huddle around the bright glow of the computer screen. There are seven gym rats waiting their turn to spray their cum on the face of an unsuspecting blonde. The girls grimace.

Diseased cum? Is that really a whole category?

Do people get off on spreading their STDs?

Are we supposed to be masturbating to this?

The girls squeeze their eyes shut. They stare at each other, both imagining their friend as the unfortunate blonde on the screen. Is this what grownups do? The girls move the cursor around, discover more links, more sorrow. What is seen cannot be unseen. The girl wipes away her tears, her sadness for herself, her friend, the girls on the screen. Still she cannot stop clicking, opening one door after another, her jaw open and slack.

 

Limbs, cunts, balls, individualized objects, separated from the bodies. It is as though they are witnesses not to mere sexual games, but murders, the hammering brutality of it, the oxygen-deprived pleasure, that crawling sensation all women know when they’re confronted with rape. They wish they never looked, but it is so abundant and instantaneous. They are disgusted by what they see, only because first timers often come to porn with youthful anticipation, not in lust, but love, with the hope that the underbelly of the world is cushioned with gentle knights instead of barbarians.

Yet the girl’s eventual return to this realm of stimulated orgasms has been determined, unaware she is of her own taste, which isn’t a fixed palate, but an escalating reality, a virtual violence that bleeds from the screen, out of her mind into the world.

 

&

 

Outside her bedroom window, stars are obscured by dense black clouds and city lights. She looks up, wishing desperately for a glimpse of their beauty. Perhaps all terrorists begin there⎯⎯a sharp turn toward the heavens when they feel their souls vandalized.

The trouble with the evening sky, soothing shades of pastels—flickers in the dark—is their reliable beauty. Their honest offering. No one becomes conditioned by a sunset or develops an addiction to rain. Nature’s ability to soothe is utterly predictable, and perhaps that is why it fails to compete against the growing pain of adolescence, the longing to be assaulted rather than comforted.

The groin of the house. The bedroom of a soul. The short and punishing orgasm.

 


ABBIGAIL N. ROSEWOOD was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her debut novel, If I Had Two Lives, has been hailed as “a tale of staggering artistry” by the Los Angeles Review of Books and “a lyrical, exquisitely written novel” by the New York Journal of Books. The New Yorker called it “a dangerous fantasy world” that “double haunts the novel.” Her short fiction and essays can be found at Lit Hub, Electric Lit, Catapult, The Southampton Review, The Brooklyn Review, Columbia Journal, The Adroit Journal, BOMB, among others. In 2019, her hybrid writing was featured in a multimedia art and poetry exhibit at Eccles Gallery. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and The Best American Short Stories 2020.

An excerpt from If I Had Two Lives won first place in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction Contest, and an excerpt from Abbigail’s second novel Constellations of Eve, forthcoming in 2022, was a finalist in the 49th New Millennium Writings Award, and the Sunspot Lit Culmination Award.

 

Featured image by AStoKo courtesy of Pixabay

 

Author’s Note

My flash piece, “A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown,” is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. This project is my attempt to explore girlhood, the stages one goes through in the process of becoming, how a girl is made and unmade.

This particular piece spotlights a moment in many people’s childhoods—their first encounter with porn. Movies, books, and other media tend to show this abrasive confrontation as almost a right-of-passage, something to laugh at. Contemporary society treats porn with casual indifference, presuming it to be a part of our sexual life, yet the power and influence of porn deserves critical consideration. Porn isn’t a mere accessory to our existing sexual palates, but an active participant in shaping our preferences, how we choose our partners, what we allow to be done to our body.

When I was ten, I read my first erotica, My Teacher Thảo (Cô Giáo Thảo), a popular story circulating among Vietnamese teens in the nineties, about—what else—the sexual relationship between a female teacher and her student. This narrative haunted me for years, making me vie for the erotic attention of teachers. I won’t go into details about the numerous stories, followed by images and videos, that I devoured afterward, each with their own implication of trespassing. Though I don’t particularly regret my curiosity, my sexual fantasies are, regrettably, not only my own. I wasn’t born a girl, I was made into one. Before I ever knew what love was, I’d wanted to be assaulted.

I was able to formally experiment more with the structure and layout of “A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown” as a standalone piece of prose than I could have in the novel. Flash fiction is the perfect medium to carry both a traditional narrative and poetic gestures and spacing. I find it to be a wonderful playground, whereas in a longer project like a novel, I might be beholden to the existing narrative structure. It is also more difficult to maintain poetic techniques in longer works without risking them becoming gimmicky and ineffective. My goal for the flash piece is different than that of the novel. In the novel, I’m interested in flow, and don’t necessarily want the images to draw too much attention to themselves, whereas in the self-contained story, it is worth lingering on certain images, moods, sounds.

As a writer and a reader, I enjoy both scenes that ground the narrative as well as philosophical digressions and insights that are deliberately authorial. Though the traditional adage is to show rather than tell, many literary authors including Elena Ferrante, Alasdair Gray, Robert Musil, Koko Abe, and Clarice Lispector employ a good amount of direct telling. Perhaps such instinct is transnational, as I’ve come to know all of these authors through translations. I am, too, a writer from the diaspora. Though I write exclusively in English, my understanding of storytelling is binary and crosses borders.


ABBIGAIL N. ROSEWOOD was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her debut novel, If I Had Two Lives, has been hailed as “a tale of staggering artistry” by the Los Angeles Review of Books and “a lyrical, exquisitely written novel” by the New York Journal of Books. The New Yorker called it “a dangerous fantasy world” that “double haunts the novel.” Her short fiction and essays can be found at Lit Hub, Electric Lit, Catapult, The Southampton Review, The Brooklyn Review, Columbia Journal, The Adroit Journal, BOMB, among others. In 2019, her hybrid writing was featured in a multimedia art and poetry exhibit at Eccles Gallery. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and The Best American Short Stories 2020.

An excerpt from If I Had Two Lives won first place in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction Contest, and an excerpt from Abbigail’s second novel Constellations of Eve, forthcoming in 2022, was a finalist in the 49th New Millennium Writings Award, and the Sunspot Lit Culmination Award.