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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 Yemassee, Pembroke Magazine, Cooper Street, Devilfish Review, Mikrokosmos, Steam Ticket, Crab Creek Review, West 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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