National Poetry Month: Poems About Abortion

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Sometimes poetry can express complicated emotions better than prose can. And if there’s anything that has complicated emotions attached to it, it’s abortion.

 

I found plenty of poems on the Internet about grief over having an abortion, often from the aborted baby’s point of view. Most of these were on “Right-to-Life” sites. Now, I’m not saying that such poems have no merit. It’s obvious that they’re heartfelt and something the poets needed to write. But they also smack a bit of propaganda, or at least the decision to use them does. So I searched some more and found three poems by well-known poets:

 

The Abortion by Anne Sexton
Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Just as the earth puckered its mouth,
each bud puffing out from its knot,
I changed my shoes, and then drove south.

Up past the Blue Mountains, where
Pennsylvania humps on endlessly,
wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair,

its roads sunken in like a gray washboard;
where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly,
a dark socket from which the coal has poured,

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break,
and me wondering how anything fragile survives;

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all…
he took the fullness that love began.

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death. Or say what you meant,
you coward…this baby that I bleed.

The Mother by Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye. 

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?–
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

And God Created Abortion by Sharon Esther Lampert

1. In the Beginning of God’s Creating the Heavens and the Earth –
2. When the Womb was Astonishingly Empty, Inside of Every Woman Being
God Made Millions of Eggs That Lived a Fleeting Lifespan. And One by
One, Each Egg Cascaded to its Death. God Made Abortion for Womankind.
And It Was So.
And Inside of Every Man Being, God Made Billions of Sperm That Lived a
Flitting
Lifespan, And Cascaded to Their Deaths, on the Upstream, Against Gravity.
God Made Abortion for Mankind. And It Was So.
3. God said, “Let there be Abortion,” And there was Abortion.
4. God Saw that Abortion was Good, And God Separated the Eggs from the
Sperm.
5. God Called to the Sperm: “Male,” And to the Eggs God Called: “Female.”
And There Were Men and There Were Women, One Day.
6. God Said, “Let There Be a Conception. And One Plummeting Sperm and
One Plunging Egg Melded into One, And Propagated the Human Species.
And God Let the Lower Species Have a Greater Survival Ratio of Eggs to
Sperm.
7. And God Said: “Let There Be More Ants Per Square Inch Than Human
Beings Per Square Mile.” And It Was So.

The following poem is my own addition:

If I Had Been Forced to Have You by Ellen Keim

Your father would have beaten you

I know this because I married him later

out of a sense of misplaced guilt

over the fact that I had aborted his baby

the only child he would ever

end up having (thank God)

 

I know he would have beaten you

Because I had other children by then

and he beat them black and blue.

But those children I could rescue

He would never have let you go.

You’re better off in heaven.

 

They tell me what I did was murder.

I’ve asked forgiveness for my sins.

The difference between God and man

is that God will forgive.

 

 

National Poetry Month: Poetry Collection About Womanhood

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On April 5th, Caroline Kennedy appeared at a New York City Barnes & Noble to celebrate National Poetry Month and promote the release of her new book, She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems. Poet Sharon Olds (who has two pieces in Kennedy’s book)  joined her onstage.

Kennedy explained why she took on this project: “One of the reasons why I worked on this book is because so many people think of poetry as a solitary art form; one poet writing alone and the reader far away. But I think what we all see here today is that poetry can really be of value for a community …  And since poems are meant to be heard, reading a poem really starts a conversation.”

Olds read several poems including “Leap Before You Look” by W.H. Auden, “to my last period” by Lucille Clifton (see below), her own “High School Senior” ( also see below). One fan requested “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in” by e.e. cummings. Then Kennedy concluded the evening by reading “Chocolate” by Rita Dove.

Description of the book

In She Walks in Beauty, Caroline Kennedy has once again marshaled the gifts of our greatest poets to pay a very personal tribute to the human experience, this time to the complex and fascinating subject of womanhood. Inspired by her own reflections on more than fifty years of life as a young girl, a woman, a wife, and a mother, She Walks in Beauty draws on poetry’s eloquent wisdom to ponder the many joys and challenges of being a woman. Kennedy has divided the collection into sections that signify to her the most notable milestones, passages, and universal experiences in a woman’s life, and she begins each of these sections with an introduction in which she explores and celebrates the most important elements of life’s journey.

The collection includes works by Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, W. H. Auden, Adrienne Rich, Sandra Cisneros, Anne Sexton, W. S. Merwin, Dorothy Parker, Queen Elizabeth I, Lucille Clifton, Naomi Shahib Nye, and W. B. Yeats. Whether it’s falling in love, breaking up, friendship, marriage, motherhood, or growing old, She Walks in Beauty is a priceless resource for anyone, male or female, who wants a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a woman.

To My Last Period
Lucille Clifton

well, girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
thirty-eight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and i feel just like the
grandmothers who,
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing, wasn’t she
beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?


High School Senior by Sharon Olds

For seventeen years, her breath in the house
at night, puff, puff, like summer
cumulus above her bed,
and her scalp smelling of apricots
–this being who had formed within me,
squatted like a bright tree-frog in the dark,
like an eohippus she had come out of history
slowly, through me, into the daylight,
I had the daily sight of her,
like food or air she was there, like a mother.
I say “college,” but I feel as if I cannot tell
the difference between her leaving for college
and our parting forever–I try to see
this house without her, without her pure
depth of feeling, without her creek-brown
hair, her daedal hands with their tapered
fingers, her pupils dark as the mourning cloak’s
wing, but I can’t. Seventeen years
ago, in this room, she moved inside me,
I looked at the river, I could not imagine
my life with her. I gazed across the street,
and saw, in the icy winter sun,
a column of steam rush up away from the earth.
There are creatures whose children float away
at birth, and those who throat-feed their young
for weeks and never see them again. My daughter
is free and she is in me–no, my love
of her is in me, moving in my heart,
changing chambers, like something poured
from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.