Lighting the Way: The 3rd Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest
Sponsored by the Abortion Care Network & Split This Rock
Sponsored by the Abortion Care Network & Split This Rock
First place: “Migration Patterns” by Sara Brickman
Second place: “a poem about abortion” by Devi Lockwood
Third place: (tie) “Reclaim” by Adele Hampton and “Book of Names” by Seth Michelson
Read the winning poems below:
Owosso, Michigan is cinder blocks
stacked on top of potato cellars and steamrolled
grey. There’s a lot of corn,
a Main Street. The high-school football stadium
shakes with glory every Friday. In high-school,
Jamie was a blonde stalk of laughter
with hair in his eyes. He came to class every day
wearing a black hoodie that read: ABORTION
IS MURDER, so I stopped being friends with him.
We were in drama together.
I’d played the Wall and he’d played Thisbe
in every production of Midsummer Nights Dream.
When I heard Jamie was in love with a boy
he’d met at church, and needed to hammer his desire
into a controllable affliction, I decided he and I
didn’t believe in the same God. My gods
were the Great Lakes, filled with fresh-water eels.
Lamprey eat by tunneling through flesh with teeth built
on a circle-sucker that rotates as it serrates through bone,
through opinion, through the nightmares of the back-alley
coat-hangers that wake me. Jamie,
I pray you’ve lost your faith.
I pray you’ve found a boy who loves you back,
and a God who loves you for wearing dresses
the way you did playing Thisbe.
Small-town Michigan knows right from wrong.
It is the place I come from, and the place I do not
come from, the town I drive through on my way between
cities, where being gay is not an illness you cut
from your body. Where abortion is a choice, not
a survival tactic. In the heartland,
girls are burying their dreams in the cornfields.
Carrying babies because they’ve been told
that’s all they’re good for, or ending them
because you can’t feed a child snow and rusted Chevys.
In these towns, don’t is definite as winter.
Don’t fuck, don’t disappoint the family,
don’t make excuses, you have bootstraps,
don’t make excuses you opened your legs,
don’t leave, and if you do
don’t forget where you come from.
And despite these warnings,
some of us still come out faggots.
Some of us still fall so in love we finally
let him, under the metal bleachers that groan
with our families. Sear our eyes to the ground
when we find our home cannot love us, some of us
leave, throw ourselves under the wheels
of our future—let me tell you what it means
to start over someplace new.
You will never forget where you come from,
because the people in these cities will glare
like you are lamprey,
fanged and grey scaled, ‘cause you don’t speak
opera house. But your home
is where you build it.
You can live in lakes filled with oil.
You can tear through walls
with your mouth. Don’t believe them when they say choice
means death, means regret. Don’t listen when they say
You belong here. You belong to
yourself. Little sister, little Houdini,
don’t look back on the lakes brimming with home
as you’re leaving, sedan wheels spinning like serrated teeth,
cutting through who you were
tunneling to a new kind of
west–out of the middle,
into the sky.
Sara Brickman is an author, performer, and activist from Ann Arbor, MI. An Artist Trust EDGE fellow, Sara’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Bestiary Magazine, Hoarse, The New, Courage: Daring Poems for Gusty Girls, and elsewhere. Her full-length collection Houdini’s Daughter was a finalist in Write Bloody Publishing’s annual manuscript competition. A teacher with Writers in the Schools and the 2013 Rain City Women of the World Slam Champion, Sara has performed her work at venues across North America, including the Bumbershoot Music Festival, Northwest Folklife, and Tedx Seattle. In 2010 she founded a multimedia reading series in her living room called The Hootenanny, to showcase groundbreaking writers and performers. She lives and writes in Seattle, WA, where she would love doing the robot with you.
a poem about abortion
No, not scrubs. Put on your tight purple dress and heels,
dig them into the new carpet. You have to look gorgeous,
that way they’ll trust you. And the patients start pouring in.
Here’s to many pregnant women in this small town, many
small hands growing inside them. A computer and some wine.
Jessica Brent came on the radio while I gave another woman
an ultrasound. She was picking her guitar, rubbing her belly,
telling the imagined audience she is the oldest child, and lovesick,
and where did this baby come from? Down by the river,
not a single couple makes out in the dark. After work
I like to stand there alone, where old meets new. I watch
the Mighty Miss, her ebbs. What is growth? Where are we
flowing out of ourselves and into someone else, their stories?
How slowly must a thing grow to be alive? I can’t quite make
out the other shore, but I know it’s there. I would reach my hands
out to touch it, but my arms aren’t long enough and I don’t know
how to swim. In this mighty state, a woman has to have an ultrasound
before the pregnancy is undone. Somewhere one of my patients pees
on a stick and lets down her hands and her hopes like a shade
at a too-bright window. It is dark outside. No one wants
the neighbors to see. You can’t outrun their hands digging
knives into turkey breasts, you can’t answer every question they ask,
every way they try to tell you they love you. Let’s legislate your body.
They love you. They do. To the many pregnant women
in this small town, and as many small bodies growing inside them,
I want to say: if we look nervous, it’s because we are. Somewhere
fear is a condom in the back of a wallet pressed shut, a pile of cash
on the kitchen table. Somewhere cities aren’t the only places
with healthcare and somewhere abortions are free. In my line of work,
I need love to keep my hands from freezing on the inside. There are people
carrying signs outside my door, shouting arguments about fingernail
development. I need a pen to spin through my fingers when they are idle.
I need you to turn up the radio, louder please. Just so that I don’t have
to listen to this shit again. When I retire, I want to live in a meadow with
not one child, not one soul in sight. Really, they kiss the wind
as they blow past.
Devi K Lockwood is a Harvard-Radcliffe woman-rower-poet-dancer in the spaces between things who will graduate in May 2014 with a degree in Folklore and Mythology and a language citation in Arabic. Devi plans to spend a year or two wandering and pursue an MFA in poetry soon thereafter. At the moment she is writing a book-length work of poems for her senior thesis inspired by stories she collected on an 800-mile bike trip that she took this summer along the Mississippi River Trail. This poem comes from that work in progress. Her poems have been published in Tuesday Magazine, Sinister Wisdom, Awosting Alchemy, Verse Wisconsin, and others.
I'm not afraid to say abortion. It's a word that falls lead-heavy out of the mouth like your tongue can't handle the weight society hangs from its unassuming letters.
Some claim it as a self-induced miscarriage; others name it a mistake.
My girlfriend calls it what it is. Doesn't redefine the negative, instead taught herself how to forgive her past, looked at her choice in the mirror and learned not to flinch.
She took a pill and now she wears trust in the shape of hands tattooed across the back of her neck. She tells me those hands would have been small, like hers. She tells me that sometimes everything's a littler harder than it needs to be. She tells me "I feel like I have a debt. And it's one I won't ever be able to pay." I tell her that I love her. I tell her I want to hear the stories she's already turned the page on but has never burned.
There are different stages of panic she says. When you accept the lines are real. Again when you pick yourself up off the floor. Again when you speak acceptance, but never apathy.
I've never had an abortion. I've never had to see life in a pink plus sign; I've never had to sit in recovery. I've never had to choose.
But I've been three weeks late and standing still in a CVS aisle--picturing myself 9 months along at 21 years-old with nothing to my name but fear and trembling repeating,"You can't hold a baby with shaking hands. You can't hold a baby with shaking hands. You can't hold a baby with shaking hands."
Stefanie is 51; she is a minister and a stepmother. She said, "I chose abortion over suicide. Twice." She said she marks the result of each rape, each year with great sadness. She said she marks them, each year with gratitude. Gives thanks for the right to make up her mind about how to handle her own body, gives thanks for impartial and kind treatment, gives thanks for safety. Stefanie prays to God no one has to go through what she did.
But we can't always choose. We can't always sidestep the hardships. Can't always uncrumble the voice box society has tried to stomp into dust.
There is a woman dressed simple in blue with a rosary held tight to her lips standing in front of the Planned Parenthood I walk by everyday. Does she pray for torment or forgiveness upon a place that provides sanctuary for so many? I want to tell her that there's no judgement in the building. I want to tell her that bulletproof glass and heavy locks bar out the hate, so pray for strength instead of penitence because there is no shame cast upon weeping eyes or shaking hands, there is no branding iron there.
Out there lurks the cattle prods. States are becoming laboratories for coercion and scare tactics. Trying to duct tape the mouths of survivors, to tarnish the names of good women.
They don't want us to questions the ultrasound, the waiting period, the heartbeat. They don't want us to peel back the label of murderer; abortion scratched red-handed across our breasts.
But you are not photograph, you are not a silent image of a former pulse, not a caricature of sin. Do not let the legislation of those who will call you unclean stifle whatever courage you've mustered in order to look at yourself in the mirror and not see catastrophe because there are no disasters here.
There are no disasters here.
It's hard to write an ending for a poem that's about one. Abortion spills abruptly from the lips, but it is no stigma. It is no closed door, no political tool to weed out the unpleasantries.
It is what it is, an eight-letter word we should never be afraid to say.
Adele Hampton is a storyteller, poet, and lover of mason jars with roots planted in DC by way of upstate New York. She has performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Busboys & Poets, and is a Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam finalist. She is featured in Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry. She is also a Literary Death Match finalist and a member of Washington DC's Beltway Poetry Slam Team.
Book of Names
Where do we keep them, George
Tiller, Barnett Slepian, David
Gunn, these beloveds
who died like mourning doves
snared in barbed-wire fences, wings
beating against Church carpets
and the white tile of clinic floors,
where John Britton and James Barrett
bled out, each alone,
so much hot red pain
in the living mind, and how are we
to endure it, how to haul
the memories of Lee Ann Nichols, Robert
Sanderson, Shannon Lowney,
no wonder our wearied backs ache, our cries
for justice mute: what restitution
for murder, what answer
undoes gendered hate, and what
to say to the victims' chuldren
other than your parents died
to help women choose to live?
Seth Michelson lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches poetry in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southern California. His most recent collection of poetry, Eyes Like Broken Windows (Press 53, 2012), won the poetry category of the 2013 International Book Awards, and his most recent book of poetry in translation is The Ghetto (Point of Contact, 2011), an English-language rendering of El Ghetto (2003), by the internationally acclaimed Argentine poet Tamara Kamenszain. He welcomes contact through his website, sethmichelson.com.