Ruth Lechlitner, "Lines for an Abortionist's Office" (c. 1936)
Close here thine eyes, O State:
These are thy guests who bring
To gods with appetites grown great
A votive offering.
Know that they dare defy
The words of law and priest---
(Better to let the unborn die
Than starve while others feast.)
The stricken flesh may be
Outraged, and heal; but mind
Pain-sharpened, may yet learn to see
Thee plain, O State. Be blind:
Accept love's fruit: be sleek
Fat and lip-sealed. (Forget
That Life, avenging pain, will speak!)
Thrust deep the long curette!
I found this poem very relevant today, especially in the Philippines. I found Lechlitner's use of the hymn, or the rhetoric of prayer, a subversive use of form. This reminds me of how Filipinos once used the Pasyon prayer (during Holy Week --the Philippines is still largely Catholic even up to today) as a means of subversion as well (there is a book that talks about just this called, Pasyon and Revolution by Reynaldo Ileto). The form can be the protest as it looks self-consciously at tradition and uses tradition to call attention to an irony or an injustice.
In the Philippines, a long-delayed Reproductive Health bill is still stuck in the Supreme Court because of challenges to its constitutionality. It took more than a decade to finally become a law but it's now languishing in debates. It's very clear that the Roman Catholic bloc is still very powerful...even among the judges (who are supposed to be non-sectarian when in the Court due to the separation of Church and State).
Which brings me to this poem...which might have been written for the women of the Philippines today. Abortion happens in the Philippines, illegally. It happens because of ignorance, poverty, a sense of powerlessness. Both Church and State have turned a blind eye. The only difference between the situation in the poem and in the Philippines might perhaps be the use of the curette (in the Philippines, folk medicine or unsafe non-medical tools are used). I like how that second to the last line states: "Life, avenging pain, will speak!)". That was very powerful. No matter if it is acknowledged or not...the conditions of poverty which has caused this pain will be addressed. As the Roman Catholic Pope criticizes the Church's "obsession" over key issues like contraception and calls for poverty to be addressed first and foremost, I hope Roman Catholics, especially those in power, take heed and move towards compassion and concrete programs for the poor (which will lead to the avoidance of the pain, both physical and psychological as cited in the poem, of abortion) rather than debate the constitutionality of contraceptives (and its violation of an infallible Magisterium). It is only fitting that the poem takes the form of a prayer...a prayer that addresses the State, calling attention to both Church and State and how all the victims become necessary sacrifices at their doorsteps, unattended to and trampled.
I also like how "Lines" in the title might refer to lines as in verses (and the power of rhetoric) or lines as in long lines to the abortionist's office. Both work in simultaneity.
All in all, this was a very striking poem. And while it was written in the 1930s, it is still relevant in my country which has still not provided an implemented framework for the reproductive health of its citizens.