For All The Babies We Prayed Would Not Be Born by Emily Banks

For All The Babies We Prayed Would Not Be Born


For Zoe, freshman, who I told
wear white shorts when you’re waiting,


favorite underwear. That’s how you beg for it.
My mother taught me how to wash out blood:


cold water in the bathroom sink, my blood
pooling in the wrinkles of her knuckle.


Always cold. For Ashley on the quad,
walking head down past the twenty-foot-tall board of fetuses


a group at our school built—
all squirming red as worms, the forceps looming


towards them, towering, the hand of God.
The boy who drove with me to CVS


in doctor’s scrubs, a greasy ponytail,
who made me pay for Plan B, said to text


when it was “good and good.” Numbers
I invented for the forms, the doughy nurse


so honest-faced I wanted to confess.
For the damp concrete floor, parking garage


closed for the night, for the 49’ers jersey
I told him to take off (the Giants won).


For Amy snorting milk out through her nose
when I, online, morphed her picture with his


to form a baby, told her there’s no way
she could keep a thing like that. The coat hanger


haunting our dorm room floor,
the intersection where I dropped him off,


library where I hid the One-Step box.
Black hair stuck to her face,


she almost sang: “I don’t deserve my mom.
I don’t deserve my brother or my dog.”


Our flat in London where she squeezed my hand
with nails, a warning on the label of our wine


of swollen belly slashed with an X-mark;
you see, I joked, all you have to do is finish this.


When at the Western Wall I prayed for blood,
abdomen aching to divulge, come clean—


his widow’s peak, oil on his forehead, high,
pictures with his girl at a track meet.


And for all the babies we prayed would not be born:
may someone else birth you,


somewhere with long skirts sweeping cobblestones.
The women squeezed tight on our side, searching for space.


I watched one, next to me, clutching a photograph
and a little girl, guiding her chubby hand


to a free spot of sandstone, teaching her how to bend
her body towards the earth, how to bow her head.


Emily Banks is a Ph.D. student at Emory University. A Brooklyn native, she holds an MFA from the University of Maryland and a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in YemasseePembroke MagazineCooper StreetDevilfish ReviewMikrokosmosSteam TicketCrab Creek ReviewWest Trade Review, and the anthology "What Matters" (Jacar Press, 2013). She was named a finalist in the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival's 2015 Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Judge Jill McDonough admired “the daring, exhaustive litany, the 'abdomen aching to divulge, come clean'."


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