1. At the FBI conference, a poet studies sexual sadism

for the girl in the barn


Case study one:
A fifteen year old, before she was a runaway.
Her sun dress, bare shoulder length blond hair so fair
it almost matches the pale screen.
A polka-dot birthday hat sits crooked,
as she braces herself on the table, blowing hard
against the pink roses flaming the cake's surface.
The humidity freezes the frizz of her bright curls
to almost beyond the picture's edge,
past her eyes that disappear in a squint.
This is all we get of the 'before' of her life,
one slide.

The 'after' begins with a slide show
made from three rolls of film,
evidence confiscated from the 18 wheeler's cab,
from the man who held her captive
in the front seat of the truck, naked,
up high.In the full Wednesday or Saturday daylight,
her eyes are inkblots in a skinnying skull,
but alive with the bright pain of seeing
new trees rushing past,
cars with children eating ice cream, other women
scheduling soccer on cell phones,
men on their way to work, flicking
nervous ash out the window,
all blind to her new exposed life.

Head shaved and naked,
a black studded dog collar attaches her to a long chain,
allowing her not much in the way of anything
and nothing
other than what he allowed.
In one frame,
her legs spread,
labia pierce swollen; small breasts bitten
and beaten black.
But you can tell those bruises aren't recent,
the instructor says, because the purple
has begun to green and yellow,
creeping up her chest,
away from the nipples,
kudzuing quietly over the heart,
so as not to crack or wake anything
that might have curled into itself and
frozen over.

Frame by frame we watch her become something between worlds,
seemingly invisible to rescue in one,
in the other gradually accepting this new reality
that shrinks her into a self
of former self of
former
self.

In the truck stop shower,
in the body no longer hers,
she looks back over her shoulder, to the camera,
away from the door. In the middle of nowhere,
straddling a rough log, again, naked blaring in daylight,
doing things to herself,
hands full of his direction;
what to do with this or that flesh colored object,
this or that stick or limb, how to look like
you like it.
Her face says she has left this place awhile ago
and even the self-inflicted pain
is having a hard time bringing her back.
The frame bleeds the bare trees into colors of watery bile.

The next slide, middle of nowhere again,
she role plays his final fantasy,
walking toward death in a black dress and heels.
An abandoned barn, she peeks through rotted
boards with innocent, Nancy Drew-like curiosity.
Smiling in red lipstick, one frame posed like a beauty queen,
the other in mock fear, hands thrust
out at the camera like wide, dry starfish.

Then, her face registers the change in him,
a decision we are blind to, but one she understands
very well.What he has said swallows us, pinholeing our view
to dread. A resistance in the chest builds
and with each clicking slide,
we wonder why we have come to this place,
hearts backpedaling from each frame that moves us closer
and closer to the inevitable.
It is sure knowledge that we are in over our heads,
that every episode of Court TV, every case file,
every true crime novel
was a ruse.
We fantasize a sudden trip to the bathroom,
an urge for coffee that can't wait.

The temptation is great,
and the shame. Naked again,
in the last frame we are allowed, a garrote of wire and wood
winds her neck; her arms suspended, puppet-like from the elbows.
The instructor is kind,
clicks off the slide and we are spared her slow, choking death.
But not what sorrows her eyes: the sure realization
that the show is ending,
that she has come back to the place of bravery yet again
and found, inside this knothole barn,
only empty hands.

Melanie Graham