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Don’t Forget the People Most Impacted by Loss of “Roe” — People on the Edges

A poem describes what “exposure to the raw edges of human existence” looks and feels like for people most impacted.

Riot fencing surrounds the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 2022.

Part of the Series

I had written a completely different article for Mother’s Day, but when — between May Day and Mother’s Day — someone leaked a draft of the Supreme Court’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade, I decided to turn back to the text of the Roe decision. The decision affirms that access to safe abortions is a constitutional right protected by the federal government. Early in the Roe majority opinion by Supreme Court Justice Blackmun, a line appears that is surprisingly poetic for a legal argument:

We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One’s philosophy, one’s experiences, one’s exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one’s religious training, one’s attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one’s thinking and conclusions about abortion.

What might “exposure to the raw edges of human existence” look and feel like for the people most impacted by the threat against federal protection of safe abortions — oppressed and marginalized people, survivors of the prevalent sexual violence culture in the United States, and poor women, girls and queer people without access to autonomous medical care?

What would we do if those of us who believe in safety, embodied self-determination and care for all people collectively acknowledged what it means to be on the edge?

I hope that when future generations tell the story of what happened between May Day and Mother’s Day in 2022, they remember that a large coalition of people, emboldened by love, came together to protect each other beyond fear and without shame. In that sense, this is a love poem and prayer.


the black becoming blue of morning after

the toilet stall of white becoming pink

the still raised red the heat of fresh slapped face

the metal slot of a just-locked drugstore door

the papercut of peace denied

the growl the car makes right before it dies

the grazing gown on grateful thighs

the salted corner of your day-stretched eye

the fast-eroding sand becoming sea

the fraying hairs closest to your temple

the names of god you call when no one listens

the tether on your ankle while you drown

the punch of breaching whale in cannon breath

the carbon glut that means the ocean’s death

the surest way to keep you out of school

the line between the joker and the fool

the bleaching coral white before it browns

the bleeding reputation of your town

the worn-out names for more falling out teeth

the flammable dryness of your Christmas wreath

the hourly room, the itching bed

the hand-torn crust communion bread

the telling and the untelling and keep

the landfill smell the grassy heap

the hand to hold, the fist to fear

the hardest three-fourths of a year

the thickest part of blood

the meaning of the county line

the place where plants learn to grow sideways

the place where the murderous coyote tries to corner the roadrunner

the moment when he learns the grounded bird has gone

the way ACME keeps itself in weapons

the rash from the bracelet before it turns green

the gasp of the species before it melts itself

the last day of the unpaid month

the rented dawn

the secret spawn of senators shuttled away to quiet

the diet of stamps

the leaking street lamps promising to walk you home

the blameworthy sportswear

the child-locked car we’re already inside

the shotgun tasting

the pharmacy cake

the voice at the bottom of the well

the impossible wellness

the sticky-hand permission slips

the hole where the twist-lock doorknob used to be

the twitch of the mouth you learn

the moment monsters dress themselves in family skin

the wet of preacher’s mouth when his subject turns to sin

the third baptism

the last confession

the grout between the tile on the floor

the only store open

the standby flight

the stranger couch

the sleepless night before

the insulting audacity of every dream

the unaffordable more

the polluted shore

the forgotten birthday

the face behind your blink

the stubble-clogged sink

the choking garden

the white-collar pardon

the hole in holy war

the finished before

the bolt-cut locker

the untreated sore

the time he took the hinges off the door

the repacked bag

the dragging heels

the scraped-out soles

the yard-sale stroller

the parking lot dandelion

the dry-clean only stains

the sharpened pencil teacher you told

the red pen of the one who already knew

the spring they cancelled the daddy-daughter church lock-in

the can’t remember days before graduation

the can’t forgets

the please not yets

the night the moon disappears

the terrifying fertile years

the pinstriped wink through the window

the soft places to land on Mars

the quiet electric backseat getaway cars

the afterschool sound barrier

the expired bus transfer

the rising costs of over-the-counter concealer

the florist tab

the stab you in the back make-up date

the not yet noticeable weight

the purple eye

the painted lip

the trashed receipts from weekend trips

the hotel lotion

the bitter tear-steeped tea of prayer

the addendum to the non-disclosure agreement

the unsaved password for the burner account for the money transfer

the billboard exit on the highway where god starts to need advertising

the gillnet slicing the throat of the last vaquita

the day you know no amount of french fries will fill this hunger

the last breath of the speech thanking our veterans for being so willing to kill

the final note of any song about your freedom

the hour they start to play the “Cosby” reruns

the dotted lines on coupons in your grocery app

the feathery feel before the soft of T-shirt becomes hole

the phlegm of the lurking troll saying ‘you shall not pass’

the sell-by date of penicillin

the inches oceans have to rise

the degrees of heat before the sky becomes convection

the quick affection of despair

the tuck of hair behind your ear

the ridge where the side of your shoe cuts your swell

the spell with the missing word

the shoal with the broken bottles

the walls and stairs that hold your secrets

the places skin loses its hue

the exact amount of blood you can lose and still breathe

the precise proportion of blunt to sharp words when you leave

the heartbeats between May Day and Mother’s

the pronunciation of justice

the number of i’s in opinion

the repetition of s in dissent

the name kept out of your mouth

the part of the key that can cut

the overlap of dream and memory

the gut elbow rhythm of again

the shelf where dystopia sells as nonfiction

the need

the light

the right

the day