Woman’s destiny is to be wanton, like the bitch,
the she-wolf; she must belong to all who claim her.
— Marquis de Sade
In Cicero the white prostitutes
in front of the Cove Motel lean into cars—
knotted hair, limp breasts
jiggling underneath tattered t-shirts.
We are seven when we watch from our steps,
sucking on tamarind candy, confused.
Aren’t blonde women supposed to be beautiful?
Then I am 22 in Musee d’Orsay and finally
standing in front of Manet’s Olympia. Her square face
and taut body, stiff hand over her sex. A woman
who can slight the black servant, snub the flowers.
She waits for a milk-faced man who will suck her
open like an oyster, make feverish love to her, crumple
the orchid behind her ear. Next, red light
district, Amsterdam: women in glass boxes:
backs impossibly arched, full breasts
spilling out of shiny lingerie. I wonder
how the old ones with missing teeth
compete with them. Behind
a cracked door, a woman rinses
her mouth and spits into a sink.
On Calle Montera, Madrid, the center of the city
near the exact center of the country—women
from Africa, Latin America, and dissolved
Eastern European countries are in front of McDonald’s,
pulling on sleeves and listing prices. A teenage boy wants
to know if they offer student discounts. A graying man
approaches a black transvestite with golden hair, asks,
how much to have sex with a dog?
In Bilbao I watch a news exposé in a fusty hostel
we’ve named Kafka. A Russian woman
named Katya has been sold in Istanbul for $1,000,
then forced to live in a brothel where men insert
bizarre objects, perform acts from Marquis de Sade
pencil sketches. Katya cries and her tears slice
through thick slabs of orange makeup.
My boyfriend lives next to a motel now,
in the urban blight of a desert city,
and after lunch today, a woman in gray sweats
walks past his house towards a mammoth SUV.
She walks slowly, as if splintered, as if
something is already inside her.
Art by Evie Lovett
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer. She is the author of poetry collection LESSONS ON EXPULSION (Graywolf Press, 2017) and I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER (Knopf, 2017), a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Erika L. Sánchez