Chicago Venus
1
 
You can imagine her softness,
but her legs—almost
architectural—surprise.
 
Define law:
nine men in uniforms
and body armor surrounding a naked woman.
 
Define naked:
mere, pure, unconcealed,
exposed, bare, nude, unprotected, stripped—
 
Standard procedure:
Remove her hands, bind them, the am-
putation necessary. She cannot
protect herself, cannot attack or press
palms together to plead her case. She cannot
touch their bodies, harm their bodies. She will not
interfere with their work, this embodiment of law. She cannot
cover her nakedness, her sex, her body, or claim
the body’s small sum of privacy.
 
Standard procedure:
Remove her hands’ fluency and speech,
remove the volition of her fingers, remove
that undeniable sign: an opposable thumb.
 
 
2
 
“Everyone deserves some measure of respect,”
says the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
Such a careful tongue, how precisely it measures:
some, sum, the smallest sum.
 
 
3
 
To see or to look—what is the difference?
 
The men look at her.
The men look around her.
The men look her over.
The men overlook her nakedness.
 
Didn’t they have the right to look at her naked,
to bind her naked, to keep her
naked,
 
(‘la propreté nous impose
la loi de les tenir completement nus.
Cet état n’est point genant pour eux,
car la pudeur est un sentiment qu’ils ignorent’’
Grandpré, Voyage à la Côte Occidentale,Vol. 1, 75).
 
Object fleshobject black flesh object
blackflesh black object
object black objectification
 
“An object,” Fanon writes, “in a world of objects.”
 
“Faith, Hope, Love,” the words she displays
as decoration, as lovely objects on her wall.
And these words expose, exhibit:
a thing to be presented for public viewing:
 
a naked black woman surrounded by white men.
Circle the correct answer.
 
a.    Sarah Baartman
b.    An auction block
c.    The genitals of Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey
 
Her nakedness, bare, nude: without the shield,
the fortress, the skin’s borders: I am, I am here.
 
Let us be objective:
 
They d(rape)d her in a cape of sorts.
 
Object!
Object!
 
She was left naked, un-
protected, a woman
alone. Passive
constructions omit the subject.
They fail to assign blame or guilt.
This simply happened.
This simply happened to a Black woman.
 
 
4
 
Her hands up, at first—surrender.

“Forced nudity is thus considered both to be automatically harmful and a form of sexual violence.”

“that is, women understood non-consensual nudity as being something that was intended to harm them in a manner distinct from men.” From Maria Sjöholm, Gender-Sensitive Norm Interpretation by Regional Human Rights Law Systems.

 
 
5
 
“still do I keep my look, my identity…,”
 Gwendolyn Brooks wrote.“Each body
 has its art, its precious prescribed / Pose.”
 
She stands tall, arms pinioned
behind her, yes, but she could have slumped,
bent over to try to hide her—self.
 
“when a grief has stabbed,” Brooks wrote,
“Or hatred hacked—is its, and nothing else’s.
Each body has its pose.”
 
 
6
 
Essay exam. Select one. Answer in 300 words or fewer.
 
(   )      Is this the first time this has happened to a Black woman?
(   )      Do you believe that it will happen to you?
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