by Robert Wrigley
If it hadn’t been such a long drive,
if there had been anything to say
except I don’t know and yes I’m sure.
If the smell of the stockyards
hadn’t made one of them sick, who’d had nothing
to eat beforehand. If there had been an exact point
from which the idea of beforehand might be measured.
If the weeks had been counted correctly
(the weeks had been counted correctly).
If the morning sun had not cast shadows of them
along the road’s shoulder, a shoulder
casting a shadow beyond the shadow of the other
bent at the waist in the industrial wastelands
they were in the midst of. If who awaited them
would wait for them, if one had not said
we should go. Did they understand
they should go? The question of legality
never arose. The drive long, the destination
questionable. Did they understand the destination
was questionable? Steel mills, brassworks, miasma
of chemical stenches that made them sick.
If no stars had ever shone above the motel,
in the town once called Monsanto,
no one would be surprised, though it was not so far
from the big river, among pussy willows,
cattails, and fetid muds of many unguent blues,
on the stinking banks of a slow meandering
tributary known as Dead Creek.
The early drafts of this poem are from 2019, nearly three years before the fall of Roe V. Wade. But you could hear it coming, that betrayal. Even I could. You could recognize the sounds it made: the sanctimonious belches of concern for the unborn, the blats of utter disregard for the recently birthed, the skin-crawling demon-wail hatred of free women.
In 1967 it was the way it was—dangerous, unjust, humiliating, terrifying. Often it was not a they (as in the poem) but a her and another her. Worst of all a her alone. There was a continuum of awfulness and degradation, only one end of which could (barely) be endured. There are those who would have it that way again; they liked it that way. Some places are already there.
Robert Wrigley has won numerous awards for his work, including the Kingsley Tufts Award, the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award, and a Pacific Northwest Book Award. He lives in the woods of Idaho with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes. Wrigley’s latest book, The True Account of Myself As a Bird, is his twelfth collection of poems. He is also the author of a collection of personal essays, mostly about poetry, called Nemerov’s Door.