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The World Where It Is

By Beth Spencer

I imagine a world where this won't be necessary,
and then return to the world where it is.
                                                    ---Sallie Tisdale


In the atrium of the principal church
in a certain Irish city
it is said a girl can find beneath a bench   
among the tea roses the name of an abortionist.
She need only bring a scrap of paper
and a bit of char to rub. No one knows
who carved the name, or when,
only that the woman is reliable
and clean. If asked, she will tell you
of her years in the convent laundry,
her escape, her apprenticeship to a man
from London. Her fee is small,
and she hums to put her clients at ease.
A melody they cannot quite remember after.

All methods have a failure rate
said the nurse, and asked if I could scoot
a little farther down, my feet in warm oven mitts
snugged over the posts of the exam table.
I recalled the methods that had failed me,
including 'wishful thinking,' the most recent.
The aspirator tugged a bit, like a small cramp.
I thought of the flowers my friend had brought
when I told her I was pregnant. Daisies, each petal
a choice spreading from a yellow wheelhouse of choices.
She, a mother of three from a huge extended family
whose connection and liveliness I admire.
But I, a solitary sort, have never wanted such a life.
I am grateful for her friendship, also my childlessness.


Listen, a desperate woman will do what she must
whether it's legal or not.
Go abroad or up a filthy stairwell off an alley,
eat poison, work a hanger into her womb,
take all her pills at once
& pray to the goddess of miscarriage,
the one whose chariot has a broken axle
but excellent shock absorbers.

The ground between the sides has no median strip,
it's a faultline where one can fall through
for failure to follow through
, as a friend once said.
Still, I stand at the sideline, taking notes
the way I used to take histories
of the patients in the clinic where I worked.
I find I cannot hate the shriekers,
I wish they'd just go home.
They are as enraged about abortion
as I am about the killing of wolves
out here in the west, where men drive trucks emblazoned
with signs that say Wolf Management Plan:
Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up.

I say wolves--& bears & old growth forests--
deserve to live as much as humans do,
that we need to better love
what is already here. Remember Rome's oldest story--
a mother wolf gave suck to human twins,
charity we'd be wise to emulate.
Stop war. Feed people, plant trees, build schools.
Spring the traps.
Make places for women to lie down in safety
to end what sometimes must be ended.

Added: Tuesday, April 14, 2015  /  Beth Spencer's poem was awarded first prize in the 2015 Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, co-sponsored by the Abortion Care Network and Split This Rock. We thank the special guest judge, Katha Pollitt, for her generosity and discernment.