“But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child – a direct killing of the innocent child – murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”—Mother Teresa(National Prayer Breakfast Speech Against Abortion – 1994)
The mother is the ultimate with regards to the child. The age-old adage goes that God created mothers because He could not be everywhere all the while. Therefore,if the mother forsakes the child, that would be the gravest injustice in the world .The speaker in the poem asserts that the act of abortion would haunt her for life,and an albatross would be hung around her neck. The tone of the poem is accusatory with the persistent use of “You”. It is also to a certain extent impersonal, universalizing the issue of abortion. The line :” You remember the children you got that you did not get” is indeed a paradox. Nevertheless as one ponders on the word ‘get’,it has biblical associations. The word ’get’ may also function as a condensed form of ‘beget’. The enjambments of lines serve to illustrate the continuity of guilt.
Though you got the children, you denied them entrance into the world defying God in the process. They were restricted to “damp small pulps with a little or with no hair” and were not even endowed with the basic right to evolve. The image of foetuses described as “damp small pulps with a little or with no hair” evokes the image of just born animals. Therefore, the animal world is juxtaposed against a human existence. The baby is restricted to an instinctive mould devoid of human growth. They could have blossomed into ‘singers’ and workers’ to conquer the world. You have eliminated them to such an extent that you do not even possess the liberty now to neglect them or reprimand them ,or coax them. You cannot perform endearing yet meaningful actions such as winding the sucking thumb or scuttling off the ghosts thereby offering them assurance in a blanket of security. Neither will the women resorting to abortion suffer the pang of leaving their kids behind with a “luscious sigh,” and return for a wholeful sight of them; that the poetess likens to a relinquishing snack “with gobbling mother-eye”. Nothing can satiate the appetite of a mother that longs for her separated-child.Though a mother does resort to abortion, the wind around rides with remorse:
“I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
The line: ”I have contracted. I have eased” while it does refer to the affecting pain of pregnancy, also points to the coming and going of the heartrending memories of the child that was never born. Her regrets swell at the thought of the breast they could never suck, their rightful maternal affection. She entreats with the babies that were never born:
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
In a self-recriminating stance, she claims that she sinned against their “unfinished reach” in the world, their grasp of the world. She seized their birth; and indispensable rights such as being christened that is the very label of identity in this world. Your right to emote-to cry ;to play games-enjoy life to its roots were snatched away. Your ‘stilted loves’ (intense emotions) were thwarted. Your indispensable cycle in this world-birth, aches, marriage, death was disallowed to you. The very beginnings of breath are poisoned in a gruesome act by the mother herself. But even in this deliberateness ,the speaker states that she was not deliberate as she was helpless in the face of rigid constraints and inflexible circumstances. Though the action of abortion was voluntary, it was not maliciously intentional.
The question then remains as to why should the speaker ‘whine’, if the crime was not the speaker’s in the first place. Moreover, the victim is ‘dead’, or was not made in the first place, according to the conventional definition of entry into this world. Nevertheless, she comprehends that this is indeed is a worldly definition and is therefore not true. The truth is that:” You were born, you had body, you died.” In other words, you did have an existence and I put an end to it. I deprived you of the freedom to emote and think (“giggled or planned or cried”).Yet, with intense remorse, the speaker claims:
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
Throughout the poem, the progression of emotion is echoed in the progression of certain words such as ‘dear’ to ‘sweets’; and ‘them’ to children’.
Despite the worldly definition that it is the Mother who is the one who gives birth;the poetess redefines the same as The Mother is also the one who does not give birth to her own babies, and yet loves them dearly.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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