Poems by Cat Dixon

Trigger Warning for rape/sexual assault. Previously published by Vessel Press.


You don’t say no, but you don’t say yes.
You don’t kiss him back, you don’t
unbutton his shirt, you don’t
slip off your red skirt, you don’t
slap his hand away from your cheek,
later your crotch. You don’t
say yes, but you do sweat—
sauna humidity on the back of your neck.
You do cry without sound, without
tears. Your heart thumps wildly
and the pinpoint needle of a migraine pricks
the back of your eyes balls—everything
is out of focus. Your breath, now shallow,
is like a drowning woman’s gasps
as she bobs too far from shore,
and there’s no boat out looking
for her. There’s no one looking
for you. Recall you’ve said no
before—that night at M___’s house.

His parents were out of town and he’d
just spent over $200 on his prom tux,
that fucking corsage, that fucking steak
dinner. Who do you think you are?
His hands on your throat, that
ringing in your ear, that slap
rattling your teeth (you had heard
that expression before and never
understood it), and that torn strap
you had to stitch back in place
so that blue dress your mother purchased
from Dillard’s looked fine there
in the back of the closet, hanging
in its plastic sleeve. You took that dress
to college so she’d never discover
the poor patch job—the only evidence
remaining, except for the nights
you lied in bed, and every car
cruising your street was his car,
and every ding of a text message,
a threat—don’t mess with me.
Yet, he never talked to you
after that night. He hadn’t
believed you were a virgin
and somehow you had failed
or passed his test. Now, this man
must have attended the same school
despite this room which is 1,000 miles
away from then, and he’s older
(maybe by 10 or 15 years).
He should know better. You could
call out no, but you want to go
home, you want to see your mother
again. You want to take that blue dress
out of the box from under your dorm room
bed, and set it on fire in the middle
of the street and watch how the wind
carries the flames to the dry
trees. You want to watch how
the branches quilt red patchwork
out of the smoke and scorched leaves.


One groped blindly to the exit
as if trudging through a moat
of sludge and hope. With limited
scope, the darkness won.
One galloped like an antelope
to a remote pond to sip
and float—bathe in the sun.
One wrote long notes
totting his reasons—
he listed many—for leaving
that way. One hung
on the end of a rope
in a black suit. I found
him there, but didn’t stay
to cut his body down.
One does what she must to cope.

Cat Dixon is the author of EVA and TOO HEAVY TO CARRY (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2016, 2014) and her chapbook, THE BOOK OF LEVINSON, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. She teaches creative writing part-time at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She has poems (co-written with Trent Walters) in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Twitter: @DixonCat. Website: