My First Abortion, 1993

One Thursday in February we drive to Memphis, miss it,
cross into Arkansas, home state of our brand new president
who just lifted the gag rule. "What's that," she asks,
as we turn a slow three point cloud of dust in the truckstop parking lot,
"what's the gag rule?" she asks, on the way to the abortion clinic.
That's the kind of time when you say "never mind." I sit
in a pale green scoop of chair and watch the boyfriends and moms,
over the edges of magazines from Thanksgiving. She is called away
to pee in a cup, then comes back to my side. "Does it hurt?" she hopes,
"I think it should." I'm here to tell her what's going to happen,
but this I can't tell her, whether it will, or whether it should.

On the way back, she's not hurting. We drive straight into rain
under a smear of moon. She smokes furtively out the window crack.
In the rear view I see cigarette cinders bounce along the road behind.
How could I have seen something so small? I do remember
the room where they did it, I stood by her right shoulder and watched
the kind of things you don't see unless you know what to look for.
We're halfway back to Nashville and she asks "when it comes out,
what does it look like, the baby? How big is the jar?" I suck back my breath
and correct her: blood, it looks like blood, like something spilled,
not even spilled, something splashed, a rain of blood against glass.
For miles she only smokes. And then: "What about God,
what does God think about what I did?"

So what do you say when someone asks you to speak for God?
Do you kick your doubts out in front of you like a rock along the sidewalk,
do you alter your gait to follow the skips of the rock?
Is that the kind of time where you say "I don't know?"
Or do you think about God? Do you think: God.
Do you feel how heavy the name is in your mouth,
how it creaks your jaw, as if you have been gagged?
What would you do? I kept driving. I said:
"God asks only that you see what you see. That you turn to face the road.
That you not come back unchanged."

1997 Jessica Manke


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