“I Am Used to Keeping Secrets About My Body” by Josette Akresh-Gonzales

Josette Akresh-Gonzales


A bottom drawer of just-in-case ovules—
treasure of Candida
ointment if you do not feel some relief.

❥ ❥ ❥

Bathroom door locked, rashes I’ve treated in the mirror.

The doctor I had for ten years—never not awkward
and when I revealed the pink pustules exploding,
oystershell yellow and white, my breast,
the underside of the breast,

he only glanced, said he suspected poison ivy—
shy (or maybe horny) doctor referred me to derm.

❥ ❥ ❥

In camp, I remember, a girl whose boobs had come
overnight like she had hidden a bicycle pump under her bed—
I stared at her and me, me and her—funny mirrors.
Behind the hook-and-eye latched door,

one of those girls taught me how to shove a tampon in.
When I failed over and over, my knee high over the toilet,
my bare toes balanced brown with mud on the sole, my face
reddening more with each attempt,

there was relief in flopping down on the bed with a pile of Seventeen
tips on how to break up with a boy: It’s not you, it’s me.

❥ ❥ ❥

I try to hike up in the Green Mountains,
focus on not peeing as I step a foot-high boulder
down, way behind my husband and boys,
our friends and their dog so far ahead, their voices damp
at the summit. I watch the horizon, a done deal:
I quit I quit I quit.

❥ ❥ ❥

About ten years ago, a woman I worked with
took me for a walk by the river, opened up like a storm:
that guy she’d hooked up with—who she thought she might marry,
who’d profiled on IndianCupid as square-jawed but smart and steady
almost too good to be true—
and saw again at a friend’s party—

Well, now I’m pregnant. Pale, nauseated
morning, noon, and night—
she wondered if I had a doctor I liked who could do an abortion.
Her eyes had never strayed up from the pebbled map
of river path under our boots.
So how far along are you, I asked—
splash—a false contraction overcoming me.
I was pregnant too, and the body quickening,
a kick in the guts.
I don’t know, she said, it could be two months.
I don’t know.

I gave her the number of my doctor
and promised that he would be for her a thing with feathers—
this was Massachusetts in 2008—
and a few weeks later, upstairs, quiet,
she told me that it was done—
of course, it was never purely one thing—
no, she had bled too much,
she had to return to the surgeon,
had to keep her secret from even her closest sister.
She told me, Look, I can never tell my mom,
my father would disown me, I could never get married.
Working in her cubicle next to mine, she took pills for the pain—
she would not be an exile.

In time her sisters would paint her in henna
and she would wear a pink sari and many gold bracelets.
She would enjoy the sweet smile of her child, like mine—
the border of before motherhood/after motherhood
like a wall which is a grassy hill on one side,
stones stacked up on the other.

from Poets Respond
May 19, 2019


Josette Akresh-Gonzales: “Georgia, Alabama, and several other states have or are considering banning abortion nearly completely, and the language in the laws and in the words of the lawmakers makes me wonder if any of these people even understand the biology of what they are trying to legislate. Women I have known have kept secrets about their bodies their whole lives—this is the culture we live in, where the female body is both too embarrassing to discuss and too easy to control.” (web)

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