Abortion issue of On The Issues Magazine; Winter 2012
What's next for women's autonomy? To mark four decades of women exercising the right to abortion, our contributors share ideas & actions in On The Issues Magazine Winter 2012.
Featuring the poetry of Judith Arcana, Sonya Renee Taylor, Johnna Schmidt, Melissa Tuckey, and Katherine Anderson Howell; Curated by Poetry Co-editor Sarah Browning.
On The Issues Winter 2012 Women's Liberation, 1971 for Esther by Judith Arcana


Every week we went to a meeting,
but not like now. No one stood up
and said, My name is Jane and I’m
an abortionist. No. Because we didn’t
want to stop, we weren’t trying not to do it.
We sat in apartments, passing the cards.

One card is Sandy from West Lafayette,
eighteen years old, coming in on the bus.
She’s got about sixty-three dollars, she thinks
she’s nine weeks pregnant. The next card is
Terrelle, who’s thirty-two and angry. Her
doctor gave her an IUD that didn’t work;
he says there’s nothing he can do.
Here’s Mona, fifty-four years old, has one
hundred dollars, wants to keep this secret
from her family. And Carlie, a long term –
twenty weeks pregnant, may have ten dollars,
twelve years old like Mona’s youngest – she
got herpes from her brother when he did it.

Every week some of the cards were passed
around for hours; none of us wanted
to counsel those women, take one
into her life. The longest of long terms,
they lived far away, had no one but us,
no one to tell, no one to help, no money.
They needed everything. Cards went around
the room while we talked: dilation, syringes,
xylocaine, the Saturday list. At the end
of the meeting, all the cards were taken.



Judith Arcana writes poems, stories and essays; her books include “Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography," the poetry collection “What if your mother," and the poetry chapbook “4th Period English." She just completed a linked fiction collection whose primary themes are tattooing and abortion (now seeking publication). In 2011, her work appeared in several journals and anthologies; visit juditharcana.com for titles and links -- on some, you can hear her read.


Why We Held Our Tongues by Sonya Renee Taylor


To say I had an abortion is to join a blood coven,
be sister with the worst of our ilk. Sister with the one
who strapped hers in seatbelts, sent car skipping like rocks
dropped in a lake. Sister with the hand that pressed five children
to the liquid casket of a bath tub. This is to say I know how people
will clutch their grace until I bring them an amulet of sorrow.
How this hive expects all my cells turn regret;
"If not a baby, at least give us the surrogacy of your shame" .

To say this word abortion is to say I am shamed thing,
a womb turned urn. It is to say I killed,
died, am dead as I speak to you now. It is to say even my teeth
wish to flee my mouth, the leper of my gums.
I must be liar. Please be liar if I say I am not sad.
To say I am not sad is to say I am monster.
I am heartless as tile, as physician's claw; is to say I am receptacle.
I am a food made rancid by its own hand. Can you smell my stink,
the rotting of me?

To say I called the clinic on a Tuesday night,
made an appointment for Wednesday morning,
is never to say I was 19. He was 19. Our teenage mothers
began dissolving our futures in crack pipes when we were 5.
Never, he washed the dishes of American Dreamers
till his hands calloused; never my wince at their touch.
Never that a Black girl's tuition for a better life
is 14 hour work days, classes. Lest the glass slipper fairytale
of a strippers pole, an old man's semen snatch her.
Never that I almost chose an old man's semen.

To say, when the nurse handed me a photo, a marble of tissue growing,
I only asked if I would feel better when it was done, is never to say:
we would have just been another thing for you to hate.
A nigger baby, food stamp, tick, fat lazy breeder, dead beat prison number,
white trash trailer hitch, A RAPE, a black boy with a gun and no daddy,
a bitter exhausted nail holding up our own crucifixion,
a thing to pity, promote, donate to,
a poverty gutter to gather your own raining self esteem in.

To say, I cried for my best friend as I took down my panties
laid on the table, is to sever the stitch of shame,
let the milk of this choosing spill from me until I am fresh vessel,
is to unlatch my wrist bound in penance
to the unhelpful, the watchers with only burrs to give.
To say, the doctor's face was a blur of soft cotton,
his voice a crisp steel speculum is to free the pigeon of truth
from its cage so it might return dove. To say,
in the recovery room I smelled twenty shades of crimson escape
fleeing down all the women's thighs is to say, I am seer and historian,
conqueror and scared teenage girl 13 credits shy of statistic.
To say, I have never spent $350 dollars more wisely
is to hang my two degree's in house whose shoulders
refuse to slump, to stare down the brick or back hand of this world
without reproach. In a land that has only desired to fuck or forget us.
That would sooner see us orphan than owners of our own flesh,
to say I did not chose to keep that which I know
would have been beautiful and brutal
is to say unashamedly,
I absolutely did choose life, mine.



Sonya Renee Taylor is a performance poet, activist and Transformational leader. She is founder of the international radical self love movement, "The Body is Not An Apology," and author of the poetry collection, "A Little Truth on Your Shirt." She currently resides in Baltimore, MD. www.thebodyisnotanapology.com.


Red Rover by Johnna Schmidt


They are on their knees now.
My seven-year-old points,
asks what they are praying about
at the women's clinic across the street.

I stroke his shining hair, say
They're bonding; it's a group experience.
I imagine myself when I was 25.
Who would trust me with a baby?

How I take blows to the abdomen,
how I look for change under the dresser,
how I steal books and sell them,
how I play Red Rover and do it all over.

The nurse warns me I shouldn't wait
but I want my boyfriend in the room.
Dilation and curettage is harder
at nine weeks instead of five. Stubborn

girl, learn: You are alone with your gynecology.
How my knees knock, how my
thighs shake, how I collapse at the bookstore,
how the sores cover my mouth and chin.

How I limp to the elevator after
the D and C, a free woman for a few
years before motherhood bounces back,
catches me in its shining snare.



Johnna Schmidt is a poet and fiction writer who lives in Hyattsville, MD. She is the Director of the Jimenez-Porter Writers' House at the University of Maryland and is working on a book of short stories.


ABORTION by Melissa Tuckey


Not the abortion, the idea of abortion
word as it escapes your mouth, bird in the attic
carrier pigeon lost in time

And somewhere in this world is a village of women
who wear only black They confess their joy
in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves

Nobody wants to answer when it calls
everybody hides a little afraid to pull back the covers

We don't discuss it in polite company
though women have tonics they pass in bottles
one for giving, the other for taking

And in this world is a village of women
whose houses are full and fragrant They grieve
in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves



Melissa Tuckey lives in Ithaca, New York. Her poems and translations have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as "Beloit Poetry Journal," "Hayden's Ferry Review," "Witness," "Verse Daily" and elsewhere. She is a founding member of Split This Rock, a national organization dedicated to poetry of witness and provocation.


Things to Know When Walking to the Abortion Clinic by Katherine Howell


The man with the snapping turtle's
face and the woman who follows
you whispering about your
blue eyed baby
are not allowed to touch you
or block your way.

The clinic is open.

My back is a barricade.
My body a shield,
my voice a soft
forest floor. Bright orange,
I keep the peace.

The uterus has no lighting system,
despite the backlit photos
of fetuses in utero,
thumbs in mouths.

The snapping turtle will push me,
like a stone on brick walls.

He may speak Spanish,
but he spits "immigrant"
like he says "slut."

The clinic is still open.

If you walk fast, white, and middle class,
you fade into the sidewalk, while they circle,
buzzards for darker prey.

They want to pry open your
mouth, make you tell them
why you are there.

The thin woman accuses passersby
of drinking the blood
of women in their coffee cups.
No one knows why.
She says she doesn't know
if the wind is God
or Satan today.

They'll follow you
to the property line,
in D.C., the door. I will
be beside you, barricade and shield,
and forest floor.

The clinic will be open.



Katherine Anderson Howell is an Adjunct Instructor of Writing at George Washington University. She regularly defends patients seeking reproductive health care from anti-choice protesters. She blogs for Split This Rock.

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