The theme for today’s 21 Days/21 Poems is motherhood/fatherhood/parenting. Brace yourself, people. This one is tough.
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?–
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
This poem was written in the 1940s. According to Danielle Chapman (in the Poetry magazine), ” Richard Wright begged Brooks not to publish this poem, saying that the world wasn’t ready to read about abortion. Brooks disregarded his advice and published it in her first book, A Street in Bronzeville. It is a poem of complex artistry: not merely a statement, but one of Brooks’s first truly original works. At once empathetic and lacerating in its irony, the poem presents the voice of a conflicted conscience as it attempts to rationalize the actions of the past.’
Both divides of the abortion debate, Pro-lifers (anti) and Pro-Choice (pro) have used this poem to champion their respective causes. Other critics have said that the poem is less about abortion and more about the harsh living conditions in the 1940s and the choices that mothers and parents had to make. However it is read, this is not a poem that lends itself to easy reading and fast interpretations.
Brooks, herself, had this to day about the poem:
“People have been playing with this poem for decades. It was first published in ’45, and some strange things have been said about it. Of course, after people have read it or listened to it. They are positive–especially the critics, who wear crowns–they are positive that they know exactly how I feel on the subject, on this controversy. I should tell you those of you who do not know this poem, that the first word in it is “abortions,” and it’s called, it has been referred to so often as “her abortion poem.” In here I believe that there is a little catalog of the qualities of motherhood. And of course you’re free to take anything else from it that you need to use. That’s one of the richnesses of poetry, that we take from the poems we read what we need.” Source: Titanic Operas: A Poets’ Corner of Responses to Emily Dickinson’s Legacy.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was an award-winning American poet. She served as the Poet laureate of Illinois and was the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.