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Poems from “Second Skin”

Content warning: domestic violence.

My name is Katerina Stoykova and I’m the host of Accents on WRFL.

I want to share several poems from my latest book, “Second Skin.” This book was published first in Bulgaria in 2018, in Bulgarian by ICU Publishing, and the following year the book won a Creative Europe grant to be translated and published in English.

This is not an easy book to read. It discusses the horrors of growing up in domestic violence, and focuses on some of the long-term effects of such upbringings. This is my own story, and I decided to share it because I feel it is important to bring difficult issues into the light.

8th Floor Balcony Ghazal

If I catch you smoking
I’ll throw you off the balcony.

If something happens to you
I’ll jump off the balcony.

Dad stopped hitting me: Go ahead, he laughed, scream for help. Then opened the door to the balcony.

To free space in the kitchen,
we moved the stove to the balcony.

Dad got mad and started
dragging Mom towards the balcony.

You could see the sun rise
out of the Black Sea from the balcony.

When the guests for Mom’s funeral arrived,
Dad hid, smoking on the balcony.

I hated him in the house,
as well as on the balcony.

I’ve been faking all my orgasms,
I confessed to my first ex-husband on the balcony.

I stared out for a month, waiting for my pen pal to arrive,
as I was scrubbing the windows on the balcony.

Your marriage will last at most three years,
Dad told me on the balcony.

When I was leaving for America, I looked up from the cab and saw
my best friend waving from the balcony.

I’m ready to let go of everything that happened
except the balcony.

Katerina, there is no heaven or hell,
there is just this balcony.

The Kiss Goodnight

Every night, the same thing. He sat by the door with his glass of rakia. The girl, at the bottom of the room schemed, visualized walking out of the room without giving her father a goodnight kiss. He insisted on his kiss, one of the privileges of working heavy labor – like a slave, he liked to say – he worked too hard for her, to not get a kiss.

Every night the stress of getting up, walking past and opening the door to the dark corridor.

More often than not she went ahead and kissed him.

At times she omitted, and he called her back.

On a few occasions he didn’t notice, but never two nights in a row; her hopes of making a new habit of not kissing goodnight – shattered.

Another feeling she had to disconnect from every day.

She mastered the autopilot.

Getting up, walking up to her father, shutting down, leaning in, kissing his cheek even though she wanted him dead, then good night and go to bed. The angry layer traveling through her like a jellyfish through water until it hits a wall.

She hated having to love him. Hated having to pretend, act as if, force herself to, felt guilty when she couldn’t, felt a fraud, even though she didn’t know the word yet, she felt wrong, both mistaken and a mistake. There must be some reason, there must be some good reason, some forgotten feeling, some thing that could counter her desire for him to die, her yearning for the relief of his being gone. Oh, she hated him but forced herself to love him, and she failed but managed to learn to hate herself. That, she learned well.

How Are You, Child?

Wherever I go, I bring my own prison. My restrictions are animate. And hazardous. And all-encompassing. Reflective of my past like a rearview mirror. I can talk to someone and, without asking, surmise what kind of parents she’s had. And those mastering spiritual practices I can spot with the naked eye. And those in need of therapy. And those who can’t manage their own lives, and those who shun the truth, because it’s too much.

Accents with Katerina Stoykova airs Tuesdays from 1-2pm on WRFL.

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