OUT ON THIS RED EDGE
“Sometimes, pulling away from coldness, you feel that you yourself are cold.” ▪ Adrienne Rich
“O my irises. My irises. And the sidewalls of my breasts.” ▪ C.D. Wright
As I would prefer to do, I could talk about my irises and the sidewalls of my breasts. Or I could say, “I had an abortion.” What would transmit? In sudden silk dark O my handkerchief embroidered by hand or by machine…roses, daisies, lily-leaves in two-color green. I could say I sang an abortion, I called an abortion, I surfed an abortion, I wrote an abortion. I birthed an abortion, because by way of synonym birth leads to delivery leads to freedom leads to choice. Look: I myself have wanted to sail off with words, but they always get stuck to things. Rather than sail off, you sail closer in: at dusk, first frogs fresh as pin pricks in tin. In any case, who would think of the room at home where I used medicine to miscarry, July light in the curtains, bee balm and sunflowers at the foot of the bed? You hear the frogs (you never see them) as sugar-pains tapped out, tapping. The funny thing about storytelling is, leaving things out is very important.
Because wanting not to be pregnant I came quite literally face-to-face with some of the people on the planet. With whom I would not normally converse. My sweetheart discovered something very queer: if you sing hymns at them, they grow afraid, and draw back. They draw back if you sing, “I’m tired of visions, modes and forms, and flatteries paid to fellow worms….” (Must stand up out of this car, must walk past. In this beloved animator, hands for all the needle-threading I will ever do. Skin and blood of mine, with thoughts in it, must walk through. The people with the hoses, were they cauldron-born?) Astonishingly, even still, I have an incurable desire for everyone to feel loved, and to feel loved by everyone. My mother claims her failure to rid me of this desire as her one true regret. (When she had an abortion at eighteen and her Catholic boyfriend split, she borrowed his car and totaled it.)
Permeability (how permeable to be) is a question of politics, and of justice. Why shout “peace and love” at people who want you not to exist? Empathy for those who refuse to countenance you might be a kind of illness.
The drowsy woman younger than me in aqua scrubs called it five-and-a-half weeks. I did the math—I did the math with “Big Pimpin’” playing from a ceiling speaker and the lubricated knob inside—and figured a freak conception on day three. My sixth-grade self arose and shouted, “Beware of sheets and toilet seats!” (And your bedroom a little enemy, field of disaster where marches your body dispenser. Field of pearl underneath.) Perhaps you already know, as somehow I did not: they measure from the first day of your last period, adding two un-pregnant weeks. The difference between three and nearly six weeks is significant, when it comes to what you are legally allowed.
Afterwards I stayed in that sunlit room at home for three days, watching bee balm petals drop around a photograph of my anti-Semitic great-grandmother who worked in Morgantown cutting fancy patterns into glass. I unstitched scraps of curtain light and kept them in a basket by the bed. When people asked, “What’ve you been up to?” I said, “Research.” My bush doesn’t talk and burn, just bursts into strings of blossom.
My sweetheart and I were once asked to leave our rural public pool for “making families uncomfortable.” It was my twenty-seventh birthday; we had been laughing and hugging in the water when the pool manager came over and stood above us. Staring up at her from the glittering shallows, confused and then embarrassed, I wanted to cry and then to laugh: Lady, we’re straight, white, prudish, masters-degree-holding adults; we are “the family.” Apparently not so.
Anti-abortion adoption agencies urge pregnant women to “give the gift of family!” A week before my appointment, we looked up bullet-proof vests and held each other weeping in the night. That they are simple-minded offers little comfort when you must walk past; in your one and only brightness, you walk like a whitetail. Later, another woman’s tires slashed and the AAA guy saying, “Yeah, we come here all the time.”
Dear joyful news, dear miracles: Forgive me if I flinch.
In all the evenings of my childhood I walked out a blue plank in a backwoods. You could use the old washing machine for target practice then dump it in a slump pond. A bleeding heart explodes back every year, fireworks of tenderness. Empty woman, rightly un-ringed, are you woman? I chose this, and I go on choosing. No I’m not doing anything, thank you very much.
There are words that fit, to paraphrase Jane Thompkins, like a pair of men’s jeans. I could be a “wife & mother” as easily as I could be a “kangaroo.” Less easily. It’s not resistance born of political rage but more like looking up from your book to find that you’ve missed the memo, like coming back from a walk to find that the town has moved. When you say that you didn’t really want to live in the town, anyway, some apparently immortal character whispers, “Only ugly women resist.” Is the bulk of my personality predicated on my hair’s inability to silk up? Am I refusing to “grow up”? I spent a decade undoing my eyes. Just to wish for something other than to be watched dancing.
Out of the (sex object) frying pan, into the (wife/motherhood) fire.
I refuse to be divided from the other women, but O my attitude my dogwood buds my whitetail walk my weeping power. Am I not like a chauvinist in my jealously of the childbearing, how they create the spectacular in the dumb dark, without lifting a finger? Am I not like a priestess in my wired lightness? Am I not like a pilgrim in my plainness, a hillside in snowmelt and sighing, oh, congratulations and what’s the proper feeling for the authorized? Am I not a disappointment, and what are my breasts for?
The night before I finally (day 33, day 34) unwrapped that flat plastic wand and peed on it trembling, we danced in our July clothes in the graceful dark in a net of nerves and plum-toned sting. We sweated with the windows open to Lou Reed. We lay on the rug in that rented street-front house, in that summer cell of anarchy and lamplight, and my love took my face in his hands: Woman of rain, he said, Flood me. Crash through me. Wherever you are going, be a river; be an undivided god.
Touch the opposite. Is there a snake in the grass and is it me? All light tends towards sorrow, and power. A plastic glove, a bottle of pills, a paper bag, a sheet with words, a cotton skirt, a blistered street, a number to call if passing blood clots larger than a lemon. Later I tried to explain my loneliness to men, somewhat my friends. Said Tim, “Why don’t you go sit in a Starbucks and see if any feminists walk in?”
In this circle I am drawing, can you see how abortion lurks red and awful along the edge; how unmarried and childless wander wanly in a taupe fog; how wife, almost synonymous with mother, shines clean and white at the center, with husband hovering gold nearby? Can you see how the family reigns, how it is everywhere flashing its impossibly white teeth?
If you still yearn to be called beautiful, wear your blood rags. If you still yearn to keep the so-called peace, cut out your tongue.
Abortion brought me into the kingdom of rage. I have always leaned out like a green thing, but voices called, that’s not the sun. The sidewalk very narrow and the people very close, before the sun. I held my purse with my two and only hands my mother gave to me, hands for all the needle-threading I will ever do. And would you have reared up, like a bear chained? Would you have roared against your fellow citizens? I called “peace and love,” then went quietly inside.
But I could just say “In sudden silk dark O my handkerchief” and leave it at that. I think I’ll risk it. In sudden dove dusk, lamplight and lung of summer. Thread of green and thread of rose. In my one and only silk dark, I flood through.
Abby Minor lives in central Pennsylvania, where she directs community writing programs that honor under-heard voices in her region. Her poems appear in CALYX, So to Speak, Slush Pile Magazine, and The Fourth River; she is an alumna of The Rensing Center’s Artist in Residence program and the author of Plant Light, Dress Light, a poetry chapbook published by dancing girl press.