Sponsored by the Abortion Care Network & Split This Rock
The Abortion Care Network, a national organization of independent providers and prochoice supporters, and Split This Rock, a national network of socially engaged poets, announce the winners of a poetry contest in conjunction with Abortion Care Network’s annual meeting in the DC metro area.
The experience of women who seek abortion and other reproductive services is as varied as the individuals involved. For some, there is safety, relief, and good medical care. For others, there is doubt, harassment, and stigma. For all, health care takes place in a politicized context in which even the most basic choices about our bodies, sexuality, and childbearing can be scrutinized.
Winners of the contest received the following prizes: First ($100), Second ($75) and Third Place ($50), and Honorable Mention. Judging was done by Split This Rock and the Abortion Care Network.
The first-place winner read the winning poem at Abortion Care Network’s annual meeting in May 2012. The prize-winning poems was published in the ACN’s quarterly newsletter, The Provider, in the conference program distributed to all meeting attendees, and here, on Split This Rock’s website.
Scroll down to read all three winning poems.
This is what I know about being a woman:
My body is coursing with estrogen,
I have a uterus, my breasts fit into bras
that are fashionable, men look at them.
Once a month, my uterus lets go
of its contents and there is blood for days.
I am not immune to the messages.
I read Cosmo and think:
This is what I am supposed to look like,
what I am supposed to buy,
I am supposed to eat,
not supposed to say,
should never even think.
It goes on like this all the time.
I buy. I eat. I apply lipstick.
Ernie is outside the abortion clinic.
He stands there with his sign,
thinks he will change some minds
because he has God
a picture of a bloody fetus,
and the force of his own ego
on his side.
I know women who have had abortions.
Real abortions that look nothing
like Ernie’s sign.
Abortions that keep them up late
Praying for clarity.
Deciding what is best.
Taking their time.
Your sister, my cousin,
my next door neighbor,
and my aunt Sarah,
the lady in line ahead of me
at the grocery store with 26 items,
the cashier in that express lane
who is pissed,
Sandy who does your taxes,
Jenny from yoga class,
Carol from the church choir,
He says it so clearly:
You need to be ashamed
of your body, its weakness,
yourself, your woman-ness.
Keep this secret.
Keep your mouth shut
And your legs closed.
Does he speak to his mother with that mouth?
In my dream, she cleans it out with soap.
She even washes away the name she gave him.
He is only misogyny now, with a face,
and a mouth and a sign.
This is what I want misogyny
with his sign to know:
I want what I want. I need what I need.
This body is a gift from that same God.
He gave it to me
because he knew I could be trusted.
He said to me in a prayer:
You know what to do, and when.
Bridget Kriner is a poet, writer, artist, and student from Cleveland, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Whiskey Island, Poetry Motel, and Nerve Cowboy. Recently, she has performed her work with Whisper to a Scream, a feminist performance art collective. Currently, she teaches English at Cuyahoga Community College and is pursuing a PhD in Urban Education from Cleveland State University. She lives in Cleveland with her husband and their three cats.
8:25 a.m.: Annie
C’mon c’mon c’mon. Let’s do this thing! “Two or three minutes,” my ass. It’s been five minutes already! Where are they? How long are you supposed to hang out in this frickin’ waiting room?
Ah, Jeez. What are these: crayons? What are we, babies? Oh, man: And construction paper!
Nooo, I won’t be drawing with any crayons at age 24, thank you.
I signed up for an abortion, not “Sesame Street.”
I almost thought they were little candies; shows how hungry I am. Why the fuck can’t you eat before an abortion? Maybe they think it’s like Mom used to say when we were little: The baby grows in your “tummy.” Maybe someone should tell them it’s in your uterus, not your “tummy.” This doc better have a medical degree.
Oh good: Here she comes. Let’s go let’s go let’s go!
* * *
It’s over? That was it? How’d I do, good? Awesome!
Man, that was nothin’! Just like I thought. No, that’s OK: You don’t have to hold onto me. That’s how I always wake up: Jump right up.
What? You mean I gotta hang out here for … another half hour?
Are you kidding? I got things to do, girls! I’m starvin’, for one thing!
Do I want to write a little letter? To who, the father? Yeah, I’ll write him a letter:
I’ll write him a 22-caliber letter, would that be all right?
I thought he’d help pay for this, that’s how stupid I am.
Oh, to the kid? Yeah, sure. Here you go:
“Ta-ta, Timmy Ten-Cells! Nice job sneaking past the Ortho-Novum plus a condom, which is spozed to be impossible! Too bad for you, but I gotta few other things to do right now, like raise my son, plus bartend nights, plus pay off my car and my heating-oil plus take care of Mom plus get on with my life, OK? Do you mind?”
There: How’s that for a letter?
Keep that on your wall. I’m outta here!
9:40 a.m.: Beth
This is all my fault.
How could I have let this happen? If only I hadn’t gotten pregnant,
just when Peter is going through all his troubles.
He hasn’t been happy in so long; I don’t know what he’d do if he ever found out
I was pregnant.
And only two weeks after he lost his job! What was I thinking?
I knew it was the wrong time of the month. Well, it was borderline. But it was too close to take a chance … obviously.
But then I talked myself into believing it wasn’t the wrong time, when it seemed like he wanted so badly to have sex that night.
Oh, deep down inside, I knew it was the wrong time. I was just too scared to remind him. I thought he’d be angry. I’m such a coward.
So I went ahead and did it to make him happy, instead of having the courage to risk talking with him about it. He’s been patient with me for so long now, keeping his temper in check. And he really had been doing a good job of it; his counselor said so, too – I would have ruined it if I’d refused him that night.
But all I could think of was his violence in the past.
I’ve got to admit it: I was just afraid for myself. I’m nothing but a coward.
And now this is the result. Here I sit in the very place, the exact, same place, where Father and half the choir will be picketing on Friday. Thank God they don’t come on Wednesdays.
What would they say if they knew I was here? What if this ever got back to Peter? Dear God, please don’t let anyone have seen me.
Oh, maybe I should just go ahead and have the baby. The poor little soul; he’s done nothing to me.
What if Our Lady had had an abortion? Our Savior would never have been born.
Maybe I can still duck out.
That side door, by that table with the crayons – where does that lead, I wonder?
Oh, God: Too late. They’ve come to get me.
* * *
I’m sorry. No, I … I’m just so sorry! I never should have done this. I mean, I never should have gotten pregnant in the first place! I knew Peter didn’t want children when I married him. And that was all right with me. But then I went and got pregnant.
How can I ever confess having an abortion?
Yes; yes, please: I would like to write a letter to the baby. I’ll use the red crayon, for the blood that I shed, and white paper, for his innocence. Oh, I bet you’ll tear it right down, though I so much want other women to read it.
“My dear, beloved child: How could I have done this to you? Dear God, forgive me. And sweet infant Jesus, born of innocent Mary: Have mercy on my soul. For you know as well as I:
It was all my fault.”
11:30 a.m.: Carolyn
Oh, look at that: They let you write! I should write a little note; after all, I’m a writer. But what can I say? I really don’t have any feelings one way or the other for this procedure, the whole “issue” of abortion ... not even for the Little Bit of a person inside me.
I probably would if I were much farther along, though.
But that’s the whole point: End it now. “Abort, abort!” as the air-traffic controllers say. And try again later.
Here, I’ll use a green crayon and some pink paper.
“Dear Little Bit: Cytomegalovirus: Leave it to me to develop a seven-syllable problem. When the doc started telling me how you’d be affected, and he got to the part about “mental and motor deficits, small head, autism, hearing and sight impaired or missing,” I said OK, stop right there. That’s all I need to know. But he kept going: “seizures, enlarged spleen …”
‘Stop,’ I said. ‘Stop right now, or I’ll be very angry.’
He stopped. And we’ll stop, too, Little Bit. We’ll stop right here.
We’ll end this flight, and take off again, your dad and I, and your two sisters, and maybe even a new child, later on, hoping for God’s guidance and trusting in God’s love and doing the best we can for everybody, even if it’s an illusion that we
can control anything at all.”
* * *
Good morning! Sure. I just wanna sign this first, and stick it on your wall
with the other ones; is that OK?
Wow; I guess everybody here’s kinda got their own story, don’t they?
Yeah. Yeah, I can only imagine.
Well, I’m ready.
Genie Abrams is the author of the pro-choice novel Louey Levy’s Greatest Catch, available at www.genieabrams.com. She enjoys teaching, hiking, writing, birding, and promoting her hometown of Newburgh, NY. She is the mother of the fabulous independent radio producer Rachel Quimby; stepmother of the awesome musicians Jon and Sam Riss; and wife of the pastor at the Hicksville United Methodist Church, the very sweet, brave, smart, and good Tim Riss.
for Spencer Reece
Today it’s Hopkins and his obscure spiritual contraptions –
everything I read is heart-corseted, like a concealable vest,
police surplus good as new. Some fanatic is packing a gun.
I turn to Hopkins – living speech – sprung,
stressed, compressed – then I’m off again, help me, obsessed.
O, restless mind – my own strange spiritual contraption.
Armor with a warranty: order it online – unless you’re a felon.
But a killer aims at your head when you’re his holy pretext.
Right to choose: third eye, bull’s eye. Some fanatic is packing a gun.
Why is the body so feared, its physicality, its passion?
Even Hopkins – the beauty of the body is dangerous – wrestling
with God, that obscure spiritual contraption.
Last week I read we’re wired for God: blessed evolution.
We’re (spring me!) wired to control – oil, water, sex.
God help us: tonight a fanatic is packing a gun.
Another doctor shot. The killer thinks he’s won.
Bodies, ourselves – mere rhetoric? Beauty is the spirit fleshed.
I mourn, I get ready for work, I put on my contraption,
it presses on my heart. Some fanatic is packing a gun.
—Sue D. Burton
Beloit Poetry Journal, Winter 2010/2011
Sue D. Burton is a physician assistant specializing in women’s health care (now retired). She was one of the first physician assistants registered by the State of Vermont to perform abortions. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, 5 A.M., Green Mountain Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, New Ohio Review, Sou’wester, and on Verse Daily.
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