How it Began

I suffered domestic violence in my first marriage. With the help of family and friends I was eventually able to escape. I’ve recently completed my first manuscript, which explores the long path of healing, the way fears and scars from previous experiences continue to affect our lives, and surprising moments of grace and wonder. When the manuscript was nearly done, I realized I hadn’t answered my own question of why I had been such easy prey for an abuser in the first place. Why didn’t I walk away? How did it all begin? I was a teenager in the late 80’s and early 90’s, so the culture of the time certainly helped shape my self-image (and led to a rampant eating disorder), but that was only a starting point. I hope the poem resonates with others who have been on similar paths.

I spent years emptying myself,
two boards off my inner dam,

daily floodletting; we grab
even small control when life pours

past our hands. Jagged models
judged me from fashion mags:

cheek hollow, Egyptian
eyes, perfect spoon of space

between faultless thighs
that never rubbed

like stick on stick calling fire,
my flustered whisk of fabric,

Always the Good Friend, Never the Girlfriend.
Megaliths of secret crushes compressed

the Why Not Me into the finger down the throat,
the diet pills, the box cutter nicked

and applied at night to the insides
of my forearms, in crosses

two inches long. Paper packs
of failures folded

into origami arrows
pointed at my soul.

Self-contempt to one-up the world.
Myopic, maybe; we were

teenage girls raised in the era
of Brooke Shields.

Then one day, he arrived,
sweet rebel smile and guitar

hands, singing Poison
those potent nights

in the stygian chapel with his band.
Boy whose voice was smooth

as cream cheese, who promised me
No one will ever love you

like I do. Kisses at every stoplight,
and I believed. I married him.

How could I know, back then, how could
I know? Promise is another word for threat.

Jana-Lee Germaine is the recipient of the 2022 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award. She is a Senior Poetry Reader for Ploughshares. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Chautauqua, New Ohio Review, Nimrod, Cimarron Review, EcoTheo Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She earned an MFA from Emerson College. A survivor of domestic violence, she lives with her husband, four children, and four rescue cats in semi-rural Massachusetts. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for her local public library, and she can be found online at janaleegermaine.com. 



Stumbling Blocks on the Mission Center’s Basketball Court, Tamara Kreutz
We fool around in the sauna, Daniel Brennan
Unforgiven Etymology, Jaz Sufi
How it Began, Jana-Lee Germaine
A Sonnet for My Moon Baby, Claire Zhou
Necromancy, Muiz Ajayi
Hot Girl Prayer, Sahara Sidi


Afterimage, Santiago Márquez Ramos
Trigger Warning, Caitlyn Hunter
A Pure Catastrophe, Zaynab Hassan
Dreamy and Content, Katie Quach
The Art of Planting Flowers, Amara Okolo


Internal Battle, Britnie Walston
Pop Machine, Richard Lingo
Bleed, Elizabeth Yuan
After the Squirrels Have Feasted—What Remains 2, Karen Pierce Gonzalez