U.S. and World Politics

A Right to Life

By Marge Piercy, 1980

A woman is not a pear tree

thrusting her fruit into mindless fecundity

into the world. Even pear trees bear

heavily one year and rest and grow the next.

An orchard gone wild drops few warm rotting

fruit in the grass but the trees stretch

high and wiry gifting the birds forty

feet up among inch long thorns

broken atavistically from the smooth wood.

A woman is not a basket you place

your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood

hen you can slip duck eggs under.

Not the purse holding the coins of your

descendants till you spend them in wars.

Not a bank where your genes gather interest

and interesting mutations in the tainted

rain, any more than you are.

You plant corn and you harvest

it to eat or sell. You put the lamb

in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to

butcher for chops. You slice the mountain

in two for a road and gouge the high plains

for coal and the waters run muddy for

miles and years. Fish die but you do not

call them yours unless you wished to eat them.

Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.

You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,

fields for growing babies like iceberg

lettuce. You value children so dearly

that none ever go hungry, none weep

with no one to tend them when mothers

work, none lack fresh fruit,

none chew lead or cough to death and your

orphanages are empty. Every noon the best

restaurants serve poor children steaks.

At this moment at nine o’clock a partera

is performing a table top abortion on an

unwed mother in Texas who can’t get

Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die

of tetanus and her little daughter will cry

and be taken away. Next door a husband

and wife are sticking pins in the son

they did not want. They will explain

for hours how wicked he is,

how he wants discipline.

We are all born of woman, in the rose

of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood

and every baby born has a right to love

like a seedling to sun. Every baby born

unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come

due in twenty years with interest, an anger

that must find a target, a pain that will

beget pain. A decade downstream a child

screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,

a firing squad is summoned, a button

is pushed and the world burns.

I will choose what enters me, what becomes

of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,

no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,

not your uranium mine, not your calf

for fattening, not your cow for milking.

You may not use me as your factory.

Priests and legislators do not hold shares

in my womb or my mind.

This is my body. If I give it to you

I want it back. My life

is a non-negotiable demand.