Carnegie Mellon University

"Compliment" by Ruthanne Pilarski

Honorable Mention for High School Poetry

The man at the bar
in a wrinkle-free green golf shirt
speaks loudly to his friend
about his opinions on sexual assault.

He says that girls
once took invasive looks
from a crowd of men
in construction uniforms
as a compliment.

He says guys these days
can't catch a break,
because females
automatically categorize them
as sexual predators.

He says,
think everything
is sexual harassment."

I concentrate on his beer soaked breath.

I stand across the room
tracing my lips with my fingertips
as a coworker of mine—
50 years older than me—
stands too close
while he tells me
how good I look in my uniform.

I think about how violated I feel
as he scans the edges and
curves of my body
with his glossed over eyes.

I think about how vulnerable I feel
as the stories about
his "lady friend"
push through his lips
and press my shoulder blades
up against the wall,
trapping me.

He tells me,
as he pulls her wrinkled picture
from his stained and baggy pocket,
that they've never been
sexually intimate.

He laughs a deep
greasy laugh and steps closer to me
when he says

I struggle to respond.
I stare at the pattern of diamonds
on the carpet
and nod my head,
hoping he’ll perceive
how uncomfortable I am
and leave me alone.

Instead, he dives into detail,
vulgar language dripping from
his lips like stale syrup,
soaking my shaking skin.

I wonder what the man at the bar
would say about this.

I wonder if he thinks
I should take this as a compliment.

I hide behind
fragile, 16 year old eyes
and hold my stomach
in my hands.

I pinch the fabric
of my uniform shirt
between white knuckles
and turn away from his cross-eyed stare
that rips through my name tag,
just above my left breast.

I turn away from the man at the bar
who makes himself a victim,
still complaining about how
his dating life has suffered
because, according to him, women manipulate
everything into a sexual issue.

And I turn away from the man
who has cornered me,
memorized my body with intrusive eyes,
and trapped me beneath his crooked
suggestive smile.

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