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"When I send my sexual abuse poems..." & "For my niece..." by Gretchen Filart

CW: Rape, sexual assault

When I send my sexual abuse poems to Western magazines, they always end up rejected

My poems are orphans in blood-stained underwear waiting for an arm to reach inside the dark tunnel of some strange editor’s dank mailbox. Outside the post box, a sticker reads: “We are an ally of marginalized people and women’s rights. Send us your nightmares. Your rage. Your unspoken truths”. When the lid finally opens months later, they examine my unspoken, raging nightmares: a battery-operated phallus that scattered like mold from my five-year-old hymen to my consciousness. A family driver stretching my frozen seven-year-old legs like weightless twine at sea, miles from safe harbor. Drunken neighbors’ cabinet-heavy body pressing against my tiny drawer bones. A friend forcing his lips on mine “brother to sister”. Middle-aged polio leg guy pushing my seventeen-year-old tachycardic chest against the wall, muttering At last we’re alone and free. A man who told me Tu eres mi princesa, only to put my no in the shredder while I drift off to sleep.

Behold! Another icy form that reads: Sorry, this is not what we’re looking for. Romanticize your sexual assault. Make it pristine. Use only dreamy words like constellations, moon, light. Everyone swears they don’t fancy violence until they accept edgy but only for shock. Everyone wants poetry but only when it’s pretty. Everyone urges you to share your nightmares until they realize they can’t handle it. Everyone claims they are an ally until allyship is demanded. Every day a woman unzips her lips for liberty and justice for all for the first time. Every day, before her first syllable makes its way to the world, a White hand covers her mouth and tells her: Keep it as storybook-beautiful as possible.

For my niece struggling with bipolar disorder

There is a darkness in this world 

that even the world can’t put a finger on.

Sometimes we’re asleep & it takes you 

by surprise. The room shapeshifts 

into a black ocean. You think god 

I am so alone

on this boat. I am 


But know: even in our sleep,

we are out on the water.

Our limbs your paddles 

into the dawn.

Sunlight hurts sometimes.

Let your salt brine this water. We don’t mind 

if it turns into the Dead Sea. We will keep kicking

until we reach the shore.

Until your feet remember


We will take out our tiny buckets 

& scoop the flood out 

of your marble eyes

until you see

you are goddamn worthy

of this boat.

Gretchen Filart is a writer from the Philippines, where she weaves poems and essays about motherhood, love, healing, nature, and intersectionalities. A finalist in phoebe’s 2023 Spring Poetry Contest, her work shares space in Rappler, Defunkt, Door Is A Jar, Barely South Review, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Bluesky @gretchenfilart, or her website, She’s usually friendly.


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