Pregnant, but unclear about her last period,
she said she thought nothing was wrong for weeks,
but knew she couldn’t afford another, couldn’t
afford the five kids she had now,
so she’d tried to put the idea out of mind,
but finally had to admit, struggle to borrow
cash to pay for this visit, and Please, please,
(she reached her hands across to grasp mine,
her grip painfully tight) make it alright,
please. But when the doctor examined her,
he shook his head—She’s too far along—
and left the room, the door clicking shut.
And then she sobbed as I’d never before heard
a woman cry, her gown slipped off a shoulder,
her body keening as she knelt on the table. Her tears,
my helpless hands, and all she couldn’t afford.
Nineteen years old, a freshman at Notre Dame.
This time last year, I picketed the clinic
with my mom. She’s big in Right to Life, devout.
But now… She chews a frayed blonde lock.
She squints her outlined eyes. I can’t be pregnant.
My mom would kill me. She leans forward in her chair
as she describes her summer in a seaside resort
where she shared a place with other seasonal staff.
We partied some. She looks away to recall.
A pause. She straightens her back—good girl—
and folds her freckled hands together in her lap
as words disappear. She’ll say no more.
Together we move towards what she needs, side
by side, down the wide, clean corridor.
College first. Then a nice guy. Engagement,
white wedding, the works. Her mom will beam.
Fourteen and petite, knee jiggling, eyes
un-still, away. She says her mother brought her.
She says she wants to keep the baby, wants
for once, someone to love me. Elbows and anger.
Her mom joins us from the waiting room.
No more than thirty herself, like a blown rose.
You have this kid, you won’t be running around
anymore, she tells her daughter. She should know.
She wants for her daughter time to grow up,
says she knows her child’s child will come
to her to raise. Another. I won’t. I can’t.
Each of them, head down, as if certain.
I send them home, nervous girl and tired-
looking mom. What else can I do? The kid
shoves fists in the pockets of her leather-like
jacket, bought, I guess, on lay away.
At twelve, she doesn’t seem to know how
she got pregnant. Older boyfriend, yes,
but the act itself seems a mystery.
She and her mom have driven five hours
this morning so her eyes keep drifting shut
as I talk about condoms. For what? She blinks.
She tells me about photos of fetuses,
babies, on the walls of her Catholic school,
and she begins to weep at the thought of sin,
so I call in Betty, the nurse-midwife,
Irish Catholic herself. Betty quotes
St. Thomas: Life begins at the quickening.
Not yet, little one. The size of a thumbnail, this fetus.
And the girl calms. Soon we’ll send her out
to her mom’s arms, back to her grade school’s
gallery of blow-ups, childhood’s wake.
A tough month, she tells me: boyfriend left
and now this, her IUD still
in place. I’ve done my best. She shakes her head,
fine red curls, a whiff of scent.
Ben won’t be coming back. A shock, she says,
after five years to learn about another
woman, blonde and younger. Anyone
could write this story! She laughs bitterly.
When she told him, his response was a promise to pay.
Half, she laughs again. She’s twenty-seven
so she can start again, but she loved him,
even his smelly socks on the bathroom floor.
Doctor gone, she drapes an arm across
her eyes and cries: Ben, oh Ben. Damp
strands against the pillow, beneath her elbow,
her lipsticked mouth, as it says his name.
Nothing’s simple, one-sided, or neat.
I remember the time the condom broke,
his eyes wide as he withdrew. Oh shit.
We loved each other, but didn’t want to marry.
No morning-after pill to purchase then.
We waited in suspense as men and women have
for centuries, the unrecorded story,
each bloody month an infinite relief.
My friend’s mother, a doctor, recalled in 1930
knocks on her boarding room door at night:
whispering women from the neighborhood who’d heard
she might know someone safe to help them.
Otherwise disgrace or hidden shame:
invented, dead husbands; new towns.
Otherwise, a long slog of poverty.
Most chose danger on a kitchen table.
The clinic staff calls: another protest.
She puts her TV suit on, and while she drives
to work, she tries out the day’s sound bite.
She parks across the street to view the scene:
the usual unruly mob recites abuse
as volunteers in clinic T-shirts greet
arrivals, walk them from their cars and through
the battered doors. At least today, police
stand watch, and Channels Five and Two have sent
a truck, crew, and photogenic face.
A thin teen-aged couple, wearing jeans
that slide below their hips, appear to wince
as the mob begins their epithets and taunts,
mouths stretched to teeth, MURDER signs
in red. Whose right? Who’s right? Let’s say, these two:
they stumble past, the girl, chin out, eyes full.
Copyright 2022 Sandy Solomon
Sandy Solomon's poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Scientific American, Harvard Review and Kenyon Review. Her book Pears, Lake, Sun won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. She is the Writer in Residence at Vanderbilt University.