Chantelle Bateman

Lists & Scales

I hate being alone with him again
Even in my mind
Trapped in his looney bin of an office
Suffocated by these four walls
Padded in frames full of bullshit
His accolades for a job well done
From people who don't know how to do their damn jobs

I can feel him staring at me
Counting my tics, fidgets, and sweat beads
Sizing me up to see if I’m a good fit for crazy

Talking to me very slowly
With small words
About things bigger than he understands
Asking me questions
And only listening for answers from his lists
That tell him how far up I am
On the “About to lose her shit” scale

We begin down the list
“Do you know why you’re here today?”
Because I'm fucked up
Because I want help
And I'm here today of all days
Because I couldn't get here any sooner
5 years of wandering
3 years of darkness
And 18 months of trying to get this stupid red tape to feed through your system properly
18 months of waiting for someone to say they are ready and willing to hear my story

"Yeah," I shrug "I lost my marbles somewhere between here and Iraq."
He moves me up the scale

Down the list
“Do you think about hurting yourself?”
I think about how I hurt myself with each piece of my humanity I gave away
Avoiding eye contact with people who look like my kin
Believing in enemies
Provoking and consuming fear
The pain of remembering is far greater than any I could inflict upon myself
I cut myself to find relief

“I think about stopping the pain”
Up the scale

Down the list
“What about angry? Do you feel angry?”
Do happy people come here?
Of course I'm fucking angry
I'm angry about your stupid questions
I'm angry that no one seems to notice people are dying in war
While everyone else agonizes, over which brand of bottled water to choose
And I'm pissed that I can't just go back to not giving a fuck about any of it
“Yes, usually.”
Up the scale

Down the list
"Were you ever raped or sexually assaulted?"
Rape is sexual assault douche bag
And your question is reminiscent of the act
Penetrating and touching me without my consent
Whatever I tell you won't matter
I know you aren't here to help me find justice or peace
Where is the question that asks "have you sexually assaulted anyone"
How many crazy points is that worth?

Up the scale

Down the list
"How many times a day do you think about your triggers?"
I roll my eyes into the far corners of my mind
Into the memories that landed me in this chair
They appear sporadically throughout my day
When my bathroom suddenly becomes a port-o-john shaped death trap
A helicopter overhead converts my backyard into a flight line
Or the 4th of July turns the whole world into place rated for hazardous duty pay
But my memories aren't on his list
His questions are too one size fits all for that

"A lot I guess."
Up the scale

Down the list he continues
In an effort to get to know me
And ascertain how much less like myself I have become
How strange is it to get to know someone
whom you intend to forget

At the end
I feel at the top of his scale
The whole experience
A deployment déjà vu
Of unpacking and re-packing sea bags of crap
Just to make sure you've still got it
His questions forced me to open up my whole box of awful
And inventory its contents
But no one tells you what to do with what's inside
I guess I will just pack it all up
Haul it back home
And try not put any of it in the wrong place

Itsy Big Ass Spider

Big, Hairy, and Scary
They have hidden weapons
So we get to them first
Before their big, hairy, scary arms could touch me
Before they could overtake us at night

They said
“Watch out for them!”
In big meetings
With big people
We talked about the big, hairy, scary things
They aren’t nice
Not pets, not friends
We collected them in jars anyway
Prodded them in their glass
prisons Shook them up, down, and around

Big, hairy, and scary
They’ll be angry
They’ll come for yo
I stayed vigilant
Boot ready to strike
No big hairy scaries would come for me

I never saw one
Not a single big hairy scary
Only the jarred trophies of boys
With too much anger and free time Tiny, hairy, and scared

rEVOLutionary Meetings

I once read a love poem at a revolutionary meeting

You bring the day
tiny toes down the hallway
to tell me, “good morning, Mommy”
When you sleep I count your breaths
to make sure that I’m not dreaming
But if I am, I’d prefer never to wake
for fear you would stop coming true
Love like this feels impossible to hold
So I’ll snuggle you while I can

“Wait, Sista,” they said, “Don’t you know this is a revolutionary meeting? What about the man?”

Oh, yeah
The man

I want to love you for
your perfect imperfections
Each crack filled with room to grow
Reminding me that you are trying to be a better man
So I will always be here beside you
Supportive when you try
Patient when you struggle
Loving when you cry
And gentle when you are temperamental

“What about the struggle?”

Oh, right
The struggle

We drifted away from love
Sometimes stopping to dance a familiar dance
Of goodbyes without hellos
Intimacy reduced to shared coffee creamer
We made love this morning without kisses
Shared a bed the night before while worlds apart
Growing more weak with each week of drifting past
Trying to float above the tears

“Um, Sista, you can’t be weak in the revolution
Haven’t you been to a meeting like this before
Sista if you ain’t down, there’s the door”

I couldn’t take it anymore
I told the revolutionaries
That the only man we need to talk about
Is the man in the mirror
And if we want to see revolution reflected there
We must struggle to remake ourselves in love
as bottomless as a mother for her child
Full of the empathy we give life lovers
And strong enough to endure the inevitable storms
I reminded the revolutionaries
It can be hard to see sometimes But if you look closely you’ll find that
Love is inside of every revolution
Showing us that it can be reshaped

They once asked me to read a love poem at a revolutionary meeting.


sadness is the color of my eyes, of my heart
the same shade as distance
and some kind of Miles Davis on repeat
it’s the sound I don’t want anyone to hear
creeping out of my pillows in the morning
before the coffee and cigarettes begin
an avatar when I’d rather just be myself

my anxiety smells like teen spirit
and whatever it is that makes mean dogs bare their teeth
it sound like trees falling, like doors slamming
like a pin drop sometimes
like my mother checking on me...AGAIN
and feels like nothing

anger is the color I sometimes paint the town with
bright red, blood shot, and sparkling with tiny salt crystals
louder than incoming and the sirens they play when I hit the deck
bitter sweet and never offered cookies
I’m just a pile of tears needing to punch you

Ssgt. Recruitme

He sat there
Badges shiny
Ribons crispy
His swagger on 1,000
Smiling at my mother as he told her
"She'll never go"
As he lied to her
"She'll never go"

Where is he now?
While my mother sits here
Eyes glassy
Chest heavy
Her heart in 1,000 pieces
Crying with me because she knows
I'll never come back

Pretty Lady

For my Mother

I don't have her eyes
I don't have her nose
I don't have her smile
But I am her
Or at least
She is who I want to be
They say we look a like
We have the same cheekbones
Those brown women legs
But I know
My heart is what most closely resembles her

I don't have her eyes
But I am her
Or at least I want to be her legacy
Our umbilical cord is eternal
She doesn't know it
But she is my sun
The reason for my orbit

I don't have her nose
But I am her
The reincarnation of all she ever lost in herself
I never left her womb
Still a caterpillar
Wanting to be like her
A butterfly

I don't have her smile
But I am her
Regal in her might
Ever graceful
She is a queen
Am sole heir to her throne
And for this privilege
I love her

I do not have her eyes
I do not have her nose
I do not have her smile
But I am her
And she is me

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The Woman I Used To Be

I remember the woman I used to be the way I remember my best friend from eighth grade.
I miss her and wish like hell we could be together the way we used to be.
We knew each other better than anyone else.
There are still things I have forgotten and I don't think I will ever get them back.

I have PSTD - there I said it.
I know it mostly sounds like Alzheimer's, but that's not it.
I am not merely forgetful of my old self.

My old self was destroyed.

Some people get to grow out of things and change over time,
but the person who was closest to me...
was taken unexpectedly.

Lists & Scales

Itsy Big Assed Spider

For Priscilla


Ssgt Recruitme

Pretty Lady

The Woman I Used To Be

Excerpt of reading of Lists & Scales at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Chantelle Bateman

I am a mother, writer, and mixed medium visual artist currently residing in Philadelphia, PA. After returning home from Iraq in 2005 and battling years of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress, I met other veterans who were using art as a tool for healing and direct action. Now, as a creative activist, facilitator, and community organizer I work to support processes of transformative justice and healing. I am a member of the Warrior Writers steering committee, a volunteer organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, and on the Steering Committee of FAAN (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now). I am also a 2013 Leeway Foundation Art & Change Grant recipient, and my creative works have been published in two Warrior Writers books, After Action Review and Warrior Writers Fourth Anthology, featured in the film, Out of Step, and exhibited at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago.