Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Hysterectomy in Munich

They pry her mouth open.
My sister is gassed.
This operation has been done before.
Records will be properly kept.
While she flies a Klieg light
over a peagreen sea
the surgeon gives orders.
A stainless West German
knife sinks in her belly.
Blood grows
like time-lapsed poppies.

Across the city
twin phalluses
of Frauenkirche
maintain their erections
as for five centuries.
At Nuremberg Stadium
Her friends cheer
a rock group.
The surgeon paints
sterile cotton
bright carnelian.
He is a hummingbird
x-ing his needlepoint.
Tissue drops into
plastic bags.
She rides a slab
to the recovery room

where she climbs back
with lead bells chained
to both ankles
with staples punched in her tear.
Over her head
a Bavarian moon
opens its mouth.
Two Bavarian dumplings
sway above her
and though she is free,
white, and twenty
she cries for the room
for the language
for the mother
she has cut away.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Fall 1973), p. 218-219

Author Comment

“My poem is not biographical, though biography initiated it: my sister was living in Munich and had a tonsillectomy. This poem is where those facts led me, a child born into World War II.

“Historical associations came into play as my sister’s situation evoked other surgeries notoriously performed on women prisoners in the camps. The second line, “My sister is gassed,” immediately establishes sisterhood, personal and universal (all women have uteruses), and the gassing of Jews in the camps. Here, however, the speaker draws contrasts to reassure herself about the legitimacy of the hysterectomy now being performed on her sister. The knife is ‘stainless,’ the surgeon is a painter, a ‘hummingbird.’

“When I wrote the poem in the consciousness-raising era of the 1960s and 70s, women were too often given unnecessary hysterectomies. (See Sexton, ‘In Celebration of My Uterus,’ Love Poems, 1969.) Today, I believe the best medical treatment of women also has a raised consciousness and prescribes this major, life-altering surgery more selectively.

“Unfortunately the expansion of war to female bodies has experienced no similar decrease. Today’s atrocities against women, perpetrated by tyrants and torturers throughout the world, confront us constantly—women’s bodies as battlefields.”