The Undamning

Zoë Fay-Stindt

Buried on the side of I-20, covered in red maples: the Pro-Life Memorial in St. Joseph, Iowa. A stretch of fenced-in earth, speared with a thousand tiny crosses for all the aborted “children” since 1973—

Or those smeared primary-colored handprints on another town’s welcome-sign, somewhere in the state’s northwest corner and everywhere, America: pray to end abortion

Impossible, to map this fertility and all the ways this country wants to own it. Where to tuck it, so it can sleep safe? Where to bury my woman and all her exhaustion?—

The tiny crosses blur as we drive by. They bloom in a small forest through my gut, sharp and white—


Every hand I’ve had inside me (I won’t say like a summoning)—

Lubed or lubeless, gloved or un-, cold. Thumb thrum. The doctor who went for the tissues, after I opened the gown pre-inspection and she remarked, surprised, at my belly fat, trying to make sense of it: too many beers? Not enough exercise?

Trapped somewhere in the summers of my boyhood—(Despy Boutris: which was just my girlhood before the awareness of danger)—when I was full of venom. Like when I bit the kid on my babysitter’s swingset, loved the muscle’s give under my molars—

Nothing but a reddish, ruddy wanting—not fearlessness, just a curiosity I hadn’t lost yet from what bit back—

The belly-shaming doctor, chiding me now for my drinks per week. Had I learned about date rape? Did I know to keep a hand over my glass at bars? About the great lurk of this world?—

The skin on the boy’s shoulder, where I broke it, rising into an angry crown of blue—


Driving past the prayer, we make a joke to try and pry the tired off of us, the worn, the terrified, caught in this wide red field that is the state of Iowa, or Texas, or North Carolina, or—so they’ll take our babies, right? They’ll cover the medical bills? We joke about gathering our babies around the sign. Free to a good home!

Anyway, this isn’t about babies. Surprise!—


My mother, on the lip of seventy, in her white satin Victoria’s Secret button up, which she wore pregnant with me (the only photo of her pregnancy, showing me post-lima bean and pre- watermelon, standing along the river we’d learn love from)—

(The river: where I could give my body back to its mud. Algal merge. Clam-shell jolt. Minnows and their cell-snacks, helping me out of my former skins. And the water: porous. Making space for all of us.)—


Each IUD implant. The first time, my best friend and I got matching ones, cute little armor-twins, holding hands in the Austin Planned Parenthood waiting room. After we drove ourselves home, she made chocolate protein bites snowed in coconut flakes. Cut each one out in the shape of Texas—

The doctors, nameless now, who reached right through me, through my childhood, through each recklessness—wracked body only scraped by trees, good gravel, a ferociousness that spiraled outwards. At their fingertips, the undone womanhood. The crawl-and-curl of my in-space—

In a dream, my college roommate hands me metal screws, spiraled into wads of cotton, to stop the flood—

Those primary colored hands, still, haunting from the billboard outside the Wagon Wheel Cafe where we pulled in for lunch, across from Fritz’s Meats and Iowa’s towering grain silos—and those are toddler hands, I want to remind the sign. Fetuses don’t have hands. Fetuses can’t finger-paint—

Smile: your parents chose life—


My mother, passing by the Lilith Fund’s table full of fundraising shirts stamped I love abortion

Her own impasses. The curdled relationship, the shrinking choices, the lost one. The tired, mostly—

Frozen in the theater’s long hallway, she turned to me: How could anyone love abortion?


Thin line of red, stretched clot, smeared lineage on his thigh as I climb off. We rub the green sheets down with an antibacterial wipe—

This Iowan sea, this wide maw. The men on the dating apps, their hooked fish like keepsakes, like sisters—

Body that houses me strangely. Body I’ve been learned and unlearned by. I won’t say corroded. I won’t say elusive. Body tired of men, the way they always leak back out. Those insistent, undammed streams—

The one who cleaned the blood from my thighs, at fifteen, with a folded square of toilet paper. Who pulled my denim skirt back down—

The one who said he could smell me in the car the whole drive long—

S at eleven, awed by my first clot: You’re so lucky—you’re a woman now

And Mom, this morning, standing in front of the hotel buffet in the same satin shirt: hair mussed, choosing a pastry. Outside, the birds in the trees chirp out at us, sing the opening day. Hi, kids, she chirps back—


The attempts to shield this ongoing body are endless. The most recent: my small plastic t-bone pulled out by her strings, her replacement ready and waiting on the counter. The metal, the scrape, the twinge, the ache—

And something not right. The doctor’s hands inside me for too long. Crying, quiet, into the fluorescent overhead—

The crinkled privacy sheet—

The punctures in the ceiling tiles, gathered like dozens of tiny mouths, opening—

And the body, not taking—

The doctor’s arm around my knee as I weep, after, her good warm. My feet still in the stirrups, and the sorry, rushing out—

This body, this bad body—


River of my childhood, wrackline full of gone: empty shells, rotting fish. Osprey rush. Poking blue crab open, her tender spilling. And little me, learning: falling off the bike on the too-fast hill down. My opened knees. My father behind me, catching up, gently lifting me back to my feet—


Armor-less, my body propelling back into its god-given flood; a stain for every hot hour I do nothing to dam it—

My own hands washing myself out in the sink—

In the bathroom, in the quiet, the red on my soft, aimless fingers. So far from dead, or dying, this body—