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By Catherine Klatzker

The world was always a place of silence,
of congenital shame—even before those days
in 1967, four years before you met your love. Your
strength grew belatedly, fertilized as it was in the

knowledge that you were nothing. Your life did
not matter to anyone, except to hurt you.


Every time you awake in your hospital bed
men in white say, What did you do? Tell us
what you did! Did you try to abort?
Every time
for five hemorrhaging days, you say you

didn’t do anything. I did nothing, you protest.
You deny the criminal abortion. A policeman

stands guard at your door. Surreal. Angry
doctors shout at you, demand your statement
of guilt. You are bleeding out in a Sacramento
public hospital. Transfusions of living blood

finally drip into your veins, saving you for the
confession they expect, to have you arrested.

Don’t tell. Never tell. The fallback admonition
learned in your father’s house—now useful again.
Dime-sized white tissue passes, and a D&C
can be done. An angry medical resident scrapes

your uterus, no medication: You don’t deserve meds.
You agree. You are nothing. You feel nothing.

You go into the wall. Surreal. Voices and images
of other women and girls billow from the walls
around you and you know them, their voices
are your own, sharing something you cannot

name, and you claim them: your witnesses, your
delusions. Thirty years later, in the nineties, you
blurt out to your partner that I almost died one
time, from a criminal abortion
. Watchful, you study
his face for the disappointment you expect, the
judgment, just like the men in white, that you are

the lowest of the low, not worth the life of a zygote.
The silence between you stalls and ripens. His voice

chokes when he at last speaks, You must have been
so alon
e, he says, and you wish you had known him
then —impossible, but all the same. He has always
seen you. His innocence didn’t need your

protection. You didn’t need your old shame.
It is safe to stand up and speak.

Added: Monday, May 2, 2016  /  Catherine Klatzker's poem was awarded second prize in the 2016 Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, co-sponsored by the in the Abortion Care Network and Split This Rock. We thank the special guest judge, Sonya Renee Taylor, for her generosity and discernment.
Catherine Klatzker

Catherine Klatzker’s essays and stories may be seen in The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Emrys Journal, Tiferet Journal (2014 nonfiction winner), Lime Hawk Journal, The Examined Life Journal, a short-short in River Teeth's Beautiful Things, and in two mental health anthologies: from In Fact Books, and from Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. Her work reflects her background in working through longstanding dissociative disorder and PTSD, and her book-in-progress was shortlisted for the 2015 Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction prize from Stillhouse Press. WHAT IT WAS LIKE shines a spotlight on a few days of her 1967 illegal abortion.

Other poems by this author