This poem is for all women who have sat stunned in the courtrooms as their abusive partners or husbands are given little more than a slap on the wrist for committing acts of violence, often repeatedly, and without consequence. The laws are still antiquated in many states, making it so that female victims are in positions of having to bear the burden of proof. “Violence” physical battering and sexual abuse; emotional abuse including isolation, blame-shifting, gas-lighting or “crazy-making,” denigrating, humiliating, threatening and restricting access to money, and verbal abuse.

Attorneys can skillfully manipulate and contrive their arguments so that dangerous men are excused by judges, who are then set free to continue to harm or kill the women and children to whom they have professed to love in one moment and threatened to kill or harm in the next. There are numerous cases where family law judges and commissioners seem to ignore or minimize dangerous, abusive behavior, and set violent abusers free to commit acts of violence again and again.

I would like to submit a petition to California lawmakers requiring every case involving domestic abuse and child abuse to include a licensed mental health clinician with special training in domestic violence and in mental health disorders that often underlie violent behavior. It would mean that a collaborative process would be implemented such that decisions could be made in service of protecting victims of domestic abuse, and providing abusers with appropriate services to ensure they cannot continue to abuse. It would also mean that attorneys may not bully and intimidate victims while they are on the witness stand, thereby causing further trauma.

When His Gavel Went Down
I
When the gavel went down, his incisors grew,
and he knew.
She thought the judge winked
at him.
She wondered
as she sat frozen if maybe it was just a bug in his eye.
The corners of his mouth bled red
when the judge’s gavel went down.
He got up from the witness chair
and he walked past her as she cringed on the bench.
His mouth bled ruby red and his incisors grew
“I won…bitch,” he hissed.
And he left the courthouse knowing
he could charm and caress any woman’s perfect place,
like a fox’s tail brushing ever so softly against the fragile skin of her doubt,
her questions crumbling into submission.
She loved him instantly, he seemed so sweet
his charm drunkening her reason,
his seductive lips quivering, her maternal nipples hardening
in remembrance of longing.
This time it was for real.
She held in her belly and wished she hadn’t eaten.
It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.
she begged him to stop.
He sweetened her more,
and her cries became whimpers.

II
When his gavel went down, and he called her up to sit in the witness chair.
She could not move.
Her head pounded and she felt as if she’d been devoured and swallowed.
Her heart stopped when the judge ran over her truth with the studded wheels of his power.
Her hands opened to see if any light could enter into the slit of possibility
that perhaps she had dreamt the whole thing.
Perhaps the laws had changed in a single second
making rape socially acceptable, not a crime at all.
But….it’s a man’s world.
He adjusted his robe and glanced down.
Almost five o’clock, and he could fall back on black letter law.
and his shot glass was waiting.
The baby she carried would be split in two between his incisors
and her breaking heart.
That’s the law.
And the gavel went down.
III
When his gavel went down
she would run,
she would hide and make herself small,
she would look over her shoulder.
She would have the same nightmare over and over again.
She would carry it in her body,
her pelvic urn turning to stone.
Her belly closing in,
tightening like his fist,
a rope around her neck choking her voice,
silenced.
And she will hover above her body
as if it was a stranger.
IV
The judge’s robe slumped over his black leather chair,
the amber liquor in the shot glass waiting.
he deserved a drink (he told himself).
he didn’t have to look over his shoulder
or run to his car because it was dark,
or hide and make himself small
or have the same nightmare over and over.
V
When his gavel went down, it was as if her skin slid from her bones
and she disappeared from herself.
She could hear her sparrow heart beating as if would fly from her ribcage.
He had shoved her against the wall,
his hand around her throat,
as his children watched.
“Stop Daddy, please stop.”
He did not stop.
It was 2001 and we thought we had come a long way,
that battered women would be safe.

VI
When he drank,
he did not use a glass, he drank from the bottle,
his shirt-sleeve covered in her blood, as he
curled his fist again.
Her head snapped back, and she felt her jaw
try to absorb the force.
He broke into her house, followed her, beat her again and again.
And when his gavel went down, the judge gave him thirty days.
He became more determined
planning,
waiting,
until the jail’s iron door slid open.
He went out into the sun.
He felt his killer grow inside his head,
and the fuel of rage filled his arms and legs like hot blood.
He knew where she lived.
He raged every through room panting,
stalking, waiting.
She knew she could not go inside
and she flew;
a panicked bird.
“He’s done it again,” she cried,
heart pounding,
pleading,
sobbing.
The police man took a report.
He did not look up at her
from his pad of paper.
The judge sentenced him,
suspended sentence, no time in jail,
ankle bracelet,

(he would drink anyway)
and a slap on the wrist.
When his gavel went down.