I want to write a poem about abortion.
I’m driving to Rural King to get a key cut.
I’m in rural Indiana. Then I’m in rural Michigan.
I’m in Michiana. I’m driving to Niles.
I pass the neon Pegasus sign outside a gas station,
always off. I pass a man panhandling at the intersection
of two rural highways; one of many men panhandling
at many such intersections in Michiana. It’s 9:00 am and already
85 degrees and he’s in the shade of the telephone pole.
I pass Galaxy Skate, whose sign is a giant pair
of roller skates with wings, like Mercury’s shoes,
like golden Nike. When I was a child,
I roller skated around the ballroom of my parent’s
country tavern. I roller skated at a rink whose name
I’ve forgotten. Every time they played Van Halen’s
“Jump” all the skaters would jump in time to David
Lee Roth’s exhortation: “Jump!” and a couple dozen
skaters lifted off the rink at once, a couple
dozen skates slammed back into the shellacked cement
rink, overlaid with a glow-in-the-dark galaxy tableau.
“Jump!” and we’d jump together. “Go ahead and jump!”
and we’d jump together. That was in a different state
tho, not here, not in Indiana, not in Michigan.
I’m on my way to Rural King, which is like Fleet Farm,
which is like Tractor Supply Store, which is like Farm N
Fleet. All of these stores sell baby chickens in spring,
display bright vinyl banners that read “Chicks Are In!”
and I take my children there to see the baby chicks,
which we can’t pet because they’re not pets, they’re
for laying, they’ll be laying hens and then they’ll be
stewing hens. They’re for food, not for fun. I should
take my children to Galaxy Skate, to see if it’s painted
like a galaxy inside, to see if it’s got neon glow-in-the-dark
paint, to see if we might disappear there, in the darkness,
only the lightest parts of our clothes, our teeth, our eyes
glowing in the black lights. At Rural King the key cut machine
is broken, no it’s turned off, no it’s unplugged, because someone
was vacuuming and forgot to plug it back in. A guy with a ponytail
helps me turn it on, helps me select the keys I need. I make
a mistake and accidentally select four copies, and by the time
I realize it, it’s too late to go back. The machine slugs along,
copying, copying, copying, copying. One key has Captain America
on it, and the others are brass, with the Minute Key logo
emblazoned on their heads, and I’ve been waiting a while now,
ten minutes, fifteen. Finally, I collect my keys. I’m leaving
Rural King. I’m leaving Niles, Michigan, to drive back
to Indiana. The sides of the rural highway are littered with trash.
Some of it sparkles. What happened to my poem about abortion?
It’s the 22nd of June. In a day or two or three or a week,
the Supreme Court will likely strike down Roe v. Wade.
I had an abortion six years ago. I was 34. Do you want
to know the details? Of course you do. My pregnancy
became life threatening, became nonviable. Does it matter
that the pregnancy was wanted? That my OB said, “This is an abortion,
not a termination?” That it happened in a hospital, with full
anesthesia? That it happened in New York? If I had lived
in Indiana then, would I have been asked to miscarry naturally,
despite the life-threatening nature of the failed pregnancy?
In the car, I’m listening to The Smashing Pumpkins. "1979"
comes on, and I remember listening to it on the school bus
in the nineties in rural Wisconsin, wearing blue lipstick,
a shiny neon dress, sparkling glitter tights, platform shoes,
the music on my headphones cranked up to drown out
the bus driver’s country radio station. In the nineties
everything seemed possible. Was it the decade or was it
my age? The hopefulness of youth? The country would get
more progressive, I thought then, not less. If Roe is overturned,
abortion will be illegal in Wisconsin. It will be illegal in Indiana.
It will be illegal in Michigan, though the governor there is trying
to do something to keep it legal, and if she succeeds, I’ll move
to Michigan. I’ll move to Niles. I’ll shop at the Rural King
and skate at Galaxy Skate. Or, if she doesn’t, I’ll quit my job and move
to Illinois, one of the only Midwestern states that’s pro-abortion,
that is enshrining abortion into law. Because I am afraid of travel bans,
of being arrested for leaving the state of Indiana to get an abortion,
or of my daughter, who is three, being arrested for leaving the state
to get an abortion in 8 or 9 years when she gets her period,
when she could be raped and impregnated against her will,
and I know Indiana won’t have an exemption for rape,
or for a child being pregnant. And I hate that this is making
me think about my only baby daughter being raped, being a pregnant child—
I hate the violence of that. Here is the abortion poem,
and it’s no longer very poetic. Here is the story of my family,
which is just one family among many, and I don’t mean to be dramatic,
but a fundamental part of my rights, and of every woman, girl,
menstruating person’s rights, is about to be taken away.
And now I’m back in Indiana. I’m driving past my children’s
summer camp, past the Catholic college where I work.
If I publish this poem called “Abortion Poem,”
will they fire me? Then I could leave Indiana. Then I’d have
an excuse. Over breakfast, my son asked me why my grandmother
had so many children—eight children. And I said, without thinking,
“Because birth control was illegal then.” Tho I could have
also said because abortion was illegal. As it’s about to be again.
“The street heats the urgency of now,” Billy Corgan’s voice blasts
from the speakers in my car, “As you see there’s no one around,”
and when I get home I play the entire album on my backyard speakers
as I sit in my kid’s little kiddie swimming pool in my one-piece swimsuit, trying to outlast the heat of the day, of this umpteenth day in June with 100 degree heat. I play “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and scream along when it gets to “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”—me, a forty-year-old woman sitting in a plastic pool in her backyard, like a child, like I did as a child.
Let the fascist neighbors with their blue lives matter flags hear me,
let the priest in the rectory down the street, let the ghosts
in the cemetery—
they’ve had enough peace. Let me have the strength, when the ruling
comes down, to know what to do next, to know what to do
with my hot, angry heart, whose beats sound like Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.