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I hadn’t understood my breath
until that long ago Friday night you tried
to choke me,
until tremulous lungs, wanting the whole sky,
burned in my chest.
Whatever you’ve strangled past shaping
into words will still be true.
You are not the first in the line of drunken men
whose silence smolders in their hands. I keep
in my lap a small olive wood bowl containing
all the air in the world. The bowl began
as an ancient tree in a white landscape
where silver roots slithered under cliffs,
the shape of its twisting visible as tendons,
its slenderest twigs bendable as cartilage,
and the wood, when polished by hands, smooth
as the bruised skin at the base of my throat.
Back when you did it, I was so ashamed
of my fear, my breasts, my need to breathe,
that years later, I am still collecting my words
like rainwater into this bowl.
Penelope Scambly Schott's most recent book is Six Lips (Mayapple Press, 2009). "Ex-husband" appeared in May the Generations Die in the Right Order (Main Street Rag, 2007). In 2008 she won the Oregon Book Award in Poetry for her verse biography A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth.
“Said the Holy One to Adam: If she agrees to come back, what is made is good. If not, she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.”
—The Alphabet of Ben Sira
They say I agreed to it:
In exchange for my freedom,
Every day, they get to kill
One hundred of my children.
Really, believe me,
One is all it takes.
Maria Padhila is the pen name of a Washington D.C. marketing writer and freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. Her short stories have appeared in "Gargoyle" magazine and the Gravity Dancers anthology of women's writing, and she was a finalist in the 2008 Split This Rock national poetry contest. She writes the Capitol Cougar blog.
Breakfast isn’t her first
ballet, but it’s more
well-known than Laundry
or Six Sleepless Nights.
Feminists say the dance idealizes
traditional gender roles that never
really existed anyway. Post-colonialists
would call it reactionary,
if they knew the piece, though of course they don’t: another
Middle Class White Woman
ensnared by her own addiction to a system
of commodities and commodification,
more victimizer in her willing participation
than victim --
though staging varies.
Some directors want
that 50’s look -- vinyl cushions,
chrome trim, cinched
opulence -- every item from the latest
Williams-Sonoma catalog. Stretched
columns. Granite. Viking
range. Once in awhile
a minimalist hangs a toaster
next to a dripping faucet, not even a sink
beneath, though puddles will endanger the players. Really,
however, it can’t be done without
the refrigerator, with whom she
has a brilliant pas de deux --
for school, the whole
constant flux of secondaries dressed
for work, briefcase, laptop, cell
phone open as they pass,
wave, signal some important
business to each other, over and around and through, never
seeing her, but pushing past,
as if she were a turnstile.
(Some productions incorporate metal
limbs as part of her costuming, though most
maintain a quasi-realism.)
Meanwhile, a central table of children
keeps turning over
while she sets
their dishes on and off. Her hair
is not neat. There’s a cup
of coffee that she pours
and never drinks except to discover
that it’s gone cold. She puts it
in the microwave, takes it out. Repeats.
At the end she’s alone, center stage, everyone
the edges—she stretches across
the table’s dirty
dishes and bread crusts—it’s melodramatic
on some level, but could
the point otherwise be made?
Music is optional. What’s necessary
is the constant sound of breaking plates.
It is all there in the Rumanian movie: Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days:
slim white legs the pregnant student waxes before going to the abortionist
the girlfriend who goes with her, loyal, protective of her helpless friend
who is not smart or wary, just looking for the cheapest fix
and doesn't anticipate the price for ending a five month pregnancy.
Slim innocent body the coarse, beaten down abortionist rapes.
He rapes the girlfriend too. After all, he is risking ten years in jail.
The hotel, guarded at the desk by indifferent functionaries asking
for money, ID, papers
refusing help to this girl, pale, wearing a cross on her thin chest. In
a room like a cell.
The abortionist provides an alcohol wash of the genital area and a long narrow
alcohol rubbed tube called a probe in the translation from Rumanian
he sticks into her slowly—camera is on the innocent, narrow knees—until it stings
which means it's poking into her womb, her uterus
and tells her to lie absolutely still until she feels she has to go to the bathroom
and let it all come out:
in the movie a doll obviously, rouge smeared, but gruesome in a bunch of towels
on the bathroom floor.
The loyal girlfriend takes it under her coat, out into the middle of the night
no electricity at that hour, roving, half starved dogs, merciless garbage chutes
on the roof.
What else can you do, who else do you have to help you in this place? The men,
fathers, boyfriends "don't have a clue."
She dumps the doll baby down a chute with a few silent prayers.
This is what it means to be a woman.
Like the old woman my friend knows, who was trapped in her laundry room for hours
too dry for the rapist to get into her
promising him money, anything if he will just let her go.
She wouldn't go out for a year afterwards.
Above all, don't move, the abortionist said, and left her waiting.
Sondra Zeidenstein is a poet and publisher of Chicory Blue Press, a small press focusing on poetry by older women. Her two collections of poetry are A Detail in that Story and Resistance. She is editor of several anthologies, including Family Reunion: Poems about Parenting Grown Children and A WIder GIving: Women Writing after a Long Silence.
What’s concerning us, feminists and progressives? From the front lines to the back burners, our angle on vital matters on our minds and popping up in the news.
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Enter the Cafe
The Love of Strangers by Merle Hoffman
"She Had a Heartbeat Too" The Tragic Death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish Hospital by Ann Rossiter
First Irish Abortion Clinic Opens Amid Controversy, Threats and Confusion by Caelainn Hogan
Forty Years After Roe V Wade, Getting an Abortion is Still a Major Challenge by Eleanor J. Bader
It's Up to Us to Defend Abortion Rights by Mary Lou Greenberg
Back and Forth by Judith Arcana
The Poet's Eye: Curated by Judith Arcana
Suggested Reading by Anna Platt and the Feminist Press
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