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Friday, May 19, 2023


by Olivia Fortier


“Self-portrait in the style of Medusa” by Andrea Mantegna c. 1474 Uffizi Gallery
Photo via Web Gallery of Art


Though afraid of the water, 

my mother hand-scooped the lake 

to wet my skin before she blew up 

water wings, and slid them to the tops

of my arms. 


I floated on the surface of a calm lake, 

the flotsam of a failed marriage;

my father had sided with the man 

who’d raped my mother, when he, 

the rapist, denied any wrongdoing, 

as rapists often do, and it was then 

my mother lost her head.


From the water, I watched my mother 

walk the beach in search of driftwood 

for garden ornaments. An hour later, 

her pile was small, her harvest thin, 

so I swam back to shore to help her, 

my skin burned from the sun’s reflection 

on the lake’s mirror top. Seeing her error, 

my mother glossed me with sunscreen. 

Then, stony-faced, as single mothers 

must be at times, doing everything alone, 

she removed my wings, deflated them, 

and withdrew into herself.


When it comes to driftwood, 

gnarls and knots are lovely decorative 

features. Dead tree roots are rare finds; 

initially disturbing to look at, yes, but 

given a couple coats of shellac to bring 

out their natural beauty, they transform 

into octopi, or staghorn coral. Or, as 

my mother explained to me as I grew,

the rape survivor Medusa’s head of snakes—


snakes being her punishment for Poseidon's

assault against her body with his venomous 

viper; the rape turned any future hopes she had 

for normalcy to stone, which is to say, as Medusa

lied under his shadow, Poseidon projected himself 

onto hera terrifying appearance, a petrifying gaze.

Then she was called monster while he continued 

to reign freely. Any man who slayed Medusa 

with his long, sharp blade would be called hero

and brave; her severed head and deadened mind, 

a trophy. But until then, she was forced to withdraw 

from society and live alone in a cave,


for shame. Before Mother died, she told me nothing 

has changed for women, and that I am Medusa’s daughter, 

and that statistically speaking, I will also become



I am Medusa.

Olivia Fortier’s work has appeared in multiple literary journals. She is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate.