By Julia Stein
Color Juarez White
I was twenty, alone in Juarez and afraid
in a white-walled clinic wearing a white paper gown.
The illegal abortionist took from the drawer
his metal rods, metal knife, metal spoon.
I laid back on the hard, white table.
The gas mask was put over my head.
It was over. They wanted me. To stand up. Walk.
I wanted to fall asleep on the floor.
Stood up. Walked. Got into the taxi.
Collapsed against the taxi’s back seat.
White street lights. The taxi stopped.
The driver’s voice, “Walk across the street
and catch another taxi back to El Paso.”
At the corner, the other side
looked miles away.
I wanted to fall down.
One foot off the curb.
I walked slowly,
step by step.
At the corner
alone in Juarez.
You’re OK,” the doctor said
in the Los Angeles office.
Three days later I bled out blood clots.
Pain exploded in my stomach.
I called the doctor.
“I don’t remember you,” he said.
I was a boat cracking down the middle.
“Take pills,” he said.
All day, the pain, the pills.
I was a boat going down, down, down
in a storm.
The next morning I woke up
to waves of pain,
one after another after another.
I dragged myself to the phone.
I didn’t understand.
The doctor said I was fine.
“Meet me in the hospital,” he said.
My boyfriend drove me down the freeway.
I moaned, “My stomach hurts.”
At the hospital I’m torn away from him
to lie on a table where I float adrift
in a sea-white room.
The doctor loomed overhead,
We need your parents’ consent.
Later he told my mother
I was running out of blood.
The Hall of Mirrors
Eleven years I have carried that summer on my back
and lived like a cripple, curling in on my myself.
I always wanted to take a chalk eraser,
wipe off the whole summer when time stopped,
the clock smashed, the hands wrenched apart.
Down the years I run through
an endless Hall of Mirrors.
I look for my boyfriend down one tunnel,
up another. I never find him.
All I see in the mirrors is the doctors.
Blood is on the floor.
My dress is smeared with blood.
Julia Stein has published five books of poetry and has also edited two, Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poetry and Every Day Is an Act of Resistance: Selected Poems of Carol Tarlen. Stein’s poetry ranges from love lyrics to explorations of war, peace, women’s lives, and work. She is also co-author of the prose work Shooting Women: Behind the Camera, Around the World (Intellect Press, 2015), and she has been an arts journalist and literary critic for years.
This is sections III, IV, and V of Stein’s poem, “When the Clock Was Smashed,” from her first collection, Under the Ladder to Heaven (1984).
Photo credit: Craig Leontowicz via a Creative Commons license.