Life-viewing poetry and prose
Words betray the truth
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This is my last review page in WORLD. Thank you, thank you, kind readers. If you want further reading recommendations, please follow me on Twitter, where I will post brief reviews. Go to @MarvinOlasky.
Over the years readers have given me great feedback. My October page on Choice Words: Writers on Abortion (Haymarket Books, 2020) generated requests for more poetry that reveals pro-life yearning even when it comes in a “pro-choice” collection. So here’s one from Judith Arcana: “That baby I didn’t have, / baby who couldn’t make me laugh— / applesauce upside down on her head; / couldn’t make me cry— / taking his first step right off the porch.”
Many of the poems moved me. Diane di Prima: “Your face dissolving in water, like wet clay / washed away, like a rotten water lily …? forgive, forgive / that the cosmic waters do not turn from me … /your ivory teeth in the half light / your arms / flailing about. that is you / age nine months / sitting up & trying to stand / cutting teeth. … / a caramel candy sticking in your teeth / you, age three … / your pulled tooth in my hand / (age six).”
Wendy Chin-Tanner, poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown: “Bone-scraping / labor is nothing like / the pangs that wracked me after / … the vacuum emptied my womb and what / spilled from me was bleak and nacreous / for years I was tethered to terror / … my body turns itself inside out.”
Valley Haggard: “I cried the whole plane ride home, suspended in the sky above our country, freed from the cluster of molecules, the magical cells. … The hydrocodone and valium did not take away the pain but wrapped it in a flimsy layer of gauze. … Sometimes I still turn over names for the child that could have been, but I never come up with one that is good.”
Teri Cross Davis: “No amount of dilation and suction / hemorrhaging and fever / could’ve erased you or / the pulp of your carved initials / made with the solid grasp / of a still forming hand / science tells me / you are still whispering/ inside my bones.” Leslie Monsour: “As light as ashes, light as sighs; a small / Bright, sleeping bird that dies and dies and dies.”
Lucille Clifton, former poet laureate of Maryland and winner of the National Book Award: “The time i dropped your almost body down / down to meet the waters under the city / and run one with the sewage to the sea / what did i know about waters rushing back / what did i know about drowning / or being drowned.”
Ann Townsend: “Into my hand you swam, / faceless face curled in a puddle. … / [I] slipped you into a soft wrapper, / kissed the wrapper, / tucked you beneath the roots of a tree. … / I pressed my foot down / to close your door. / Of course I loved you, / even as I set my heel against the dirt.”
This is a volume of advocacy for abortion.
Meera Shah’s You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion (Chicago Review Press, 2020) says “abortion has a safety rating of 99 percent.” But if we count everyone on the surgical table, the safety rating is 49.5 percent. Shah says “secrecy about an abortion results in isolation and a lack of social support.” True, but let’s flip it: Isolation and a lack of social support (particularly from the dad) lead to abortion. That’s one reason pro-life pregnancy resource centers that build new relationships are so important.
Diana Foster’s The Turnaway Study (Scribner, 2020) reports on a survey of reasons for aborting: “not financially prepared” and “interferes with future opportunities” are frequent. Those answers point to the need to reduce financial pressures to abort. But think about this statement by a woman with a husband and a 10-year-old: “We weren’t struggling, but … my daughter was a figure skater, which was quite expensive. … I felt like I wanted to give one kid everything that I possibly could.”
Everything but a sister or brother. —M.O.
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