I’ve known since childhood that to many people, I’m not a full person, but I can’t pinpoint the moment I grasped it. Sexual assaults in college and high school were strong messages that my body didn’t belong to me. In a middle school class debate, a teacher required me to argue AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment–this would have been around 1980–and I found some noxious stuff as I researched the arguments, but I already recognized the kind of woman-loathing being spewed by those writers under the guise of reasonableness. (Side note: is it really a good idea to ask a middle schooler to argue in front of her class against her own personhood?) Still further back, my father saved my first short story, written in early elementary school, about an abusive father who kills his wife and one of his daughters, while the other escapes to tell the tale. It was apparently written in protest because I asked to watch a TV special about domestic violence and my mother wouldn’t let me. I was proving that I already knew the world was terrible. My father, who sometimes hurt us in a casual way, thought my story was funny. My mother was not of the same opinion.
My father was clearly an early teacher that women are not people with rights over their bodies, although he also appreciated my intelligence and told me I could go far, as long as I didn’t do stereotypically feminine things. A moment I flash back to often was being two or three years old and hearing my father come home, keys jingling as he climbed the stairs of our split-level. I loved the silvery sound of those keys, wanted to have the power to leave and come back at will, unlike my mother, pregnant at home, always tending other people’s needs. Early on, I aimed my life at economic autonomy, my best shot at self-determination. I perceived that both my parents thought my father was the smarter one–so that’s what I decided to be, following my father’s cues. Independent. Smart.
And here I am, yeah pretty smart, but, more crucially, with more education, money, and therefore freedom than my mother. LOTS of luck contributed to that, as well as work to the point of hurting myself sometimes. I’m past risk of unwanted pregnancy, but my kids and my students and plenty of my friends aren’t, nor millions of strangers who deserve a choice. Pregnancy, I know from personal experience, is a radical, risky condition. I always wanted children–I’m my mother’s child as well as my father’s–but carrying them in my body was rough. Forcing people to endure pregnancy when they don’t want to is profoundly wrong.
So as I watch people responding to SCOTUS’s contempt for human life–that’s what it is–I find myself coolheadedly considering the best ways to act. I’ll donate to and vote for Democrats even if I have to hold my nose in the process. I’ll keep donating to organizations that provide abortion access. I have to figure out the best representatives to write letters to and the best cases to argue in those letters. I also look forward to hearing from people who have more political smarts than I about the most effective ways to direct my energy.
Meanwhile, books and art and time with my lovely loved ones. I finished an essay draft this week, before the news tore holes in my concentration, and lined up some events for Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I proofread the wonderful new issue of Shenandoah, now live. I basked in two generous blog posts about Poetry’s Possible Worlds: Frank Hudson compares its alternate kind of poetry criticism to the process of making music out of poems in The Parlando Project; and my feminist spouse Chris Gavaler gives the book a philosophical take, considering how I address poetry’s fictionality and world-building powers. LOTS of luck, again, in the readings my book is receiving.
Finally the publication pictured below came in, with thanks to North American Review. The politics underneath the physics metaphor aren’t an accident; “Particle-Wave” is one of many spells I wrote leading up to the 2020 election (I think I was reading Samiya Bashir’s amazing Field Theories at the time). Our charms are still worth casting, and literature is still sustaining–although poetry alone is never enough.