TW: Post is about rape and attacking/killing rapists! In film, poetry, and real life.

Vengeance against rapists, in addition to just being awesome, is not a topic that escapes the attention of poets and screenwriters:

Indeed, there is an entire subgenre of exploitation films dubbed “rape-revenge,” of which I Spit on Your Grave is one such entry. I’m not going to offer any analysis of them here, as they’ve been written about extensively and it doesn’t take a PhD in Gender Studies to realize the above film poster is clearly sexualizing women in a misogynistic way. Instead I’m just going to connect a poem by Anne Sexton—which might or might not be about a husband, or boyfriend, or ‘hookup,’ but is pretty clearly about unwanted intercourse—to two more recent films: Hard Candy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Before I go on, it might be worth noting that this isn’t just the fantasy topic of pop culture—people really do exact vengeance on their rapists in the real world:

That banner was created for a feminist vigilante march just a week or two ago! And if you’re feeling up to it, here’s a picture of a dead rapist who was crucified to a highway sign after he had his genitals cut off and stuffed into his mouth (oh, and that sign on his chest was affixed with an icepick). Also see the story of the woman who beheaded her rapist (“That is the head of one who toyed with my honor”). And the story of the woman who doused the man who raped her daughter with petrol before setting him on fire.

Anyhow, now that I’ve made my point: the text of Anne Sexton’s “Bayonet” is at the bottom of this post, while my audio recording of it is above. Below is the climax of Hard Candy (so, spoiler alert, duh), where Ellen Page’s character convinces a murderer/rapist/pedophile to hang himself. And beneath that is a trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—if you’re watching closely, the scene where she tattoos the man who raped her with the words “I AM A RAPIST PIG” (or something like that) is shown briefly around the 1:00 mark (it’s also the screen cap for the video, so that makes it hard to miss, ha).

That’s it for this round of the feature I’m calling “Poems Talk Back”; stay tuned for the next installment showcasing poetry’s connection with other issues that matter!

Bayonet

What can I do with this bayonet?
Make a rose bush of it?
Poke it into the moon?
Shave my legs with its silver?
Spear a goldfish?
No. No.

It was made
in my dream
for you.
My eyes were closed.
I was curled fetally
and yet I held a bayonet
that was for the earth of your stomach.
The belly button singing its puzzle.
The intestines winding like alpine roads.
It was made to enter you
as you have entered me
and to cut the daylight into you
and let out your buried heartland,
to let out the spoon you have fed me with,
to let out the bird that said fuck you,
to carve him onto a sculpture until he is white
and I could put him on a shelf,
an object unthinking as a stone,
but with all the vibrations
of a crucifix.

  — Anne Sexton