Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Ovulation Triptych

1. Fake
You never existed but I carried you
in the way I laid my hand
on my stomach, gently,
as if to beg, Tell me your secret.
For five days I lived in a body
ignorant as a hard-boiled egg
and waited to bleed. The girls
on the avenue sucking their spoons,
they were a different breed.

The paper said a cockroach,
once decapitated, will live ten days
before it dies, and even then
not from the wound, but starvation.
The persistence of life fascinates:
I imagined your struggle to begin,
just as I must have when my mother
resisted me, then gave in.

But you know how it ends,
a celebration of your absence, as it were.
This announced with my second mouth,
the paint on the banner, familiar.

2. Abortion
Of course I said I'd be right over.
You were on the porch stairs, ripping
the fibers of a filter cigarette
with your hands, not saying much.
It was a Sunday afternoon. The sky hung
colorless, still, like slack cloth.

At the clinic, you said, someone had taped
a photograph—it must have been cut
from a travel magazine—of a tropical sea
and white sand on the ceiling right above
your head. You concentrated very hard
on the management of that small comfort.

I strained to picture life, the grip
of an infant's hand, a fetus tightly curled,
but all I saw was eggs,
how once I cracked open
one from a dozen and found
cupped in the jagged shells,
a bloodmark suspended in the run of raw yolk,
sudden like short sentence,
barely begun before ending, period.

3. Stain
Years later changing the sheets
on her childhood bed,
I uncover it,
my sister's menstrual stain
on the striped mattress,
a peculiar bloom resisting
the outline of any state or continent,
size of a small girl's fist,
a neatness and an absence
that is faintly sexual,
like coming across a pair of sheer,
beige hose shed in a coil,
the owner defined only
by this careless gesture of abandonment.
If my sister got on her knees,
struggling to blot out
that midnight steeping
with water and baking soda,
I was not there to witness it.
But what if there was no shame
involved. What if she knew
the body is dominion, and the sun
that morning a blazing diadem,
straddling the mountains like saucy queen.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 69-71