Open Letter Poem

A single fact to start: Nicholas Kristof (and others) have reported that more women were killed in the last 50 years just for being women than all of the men in all of the wars of the 20th century! Come again? It's a fact. The men bought it in World Wars or regional wars or battles sanctioned by the State -- the women all died because they had female body parts!

Do we all know that a 27-year-old, critically ill woman (26 weeks pregnant) died recently while undergoing a Cesarean section ordered by a judge in Washington, D.C., in his attempt to save the fetus? (The judge, by the way, was aware of the great risk to the young woman's life.)

The world was outraged by the YouTube beheadings of journalists by ISIS, but, folks, women are beheaded (or stoned to death) with appalling regularity in countries like Saudi Arabia. Just for "being women" -- or for acting on human desire, for having an opinion, for seeking to be educated.

Sixteen-year-old Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai is shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up, in Pakistan, for the rights of young women to go to school. (You know the saying: The Taliban doesn't fear bombs or drones -- they fear a young woman with a book.)

From deadly gang-rapes in India, to rapes in the U.S. (and the billing of rape victims for rape kits!) to sexual harassment in the military to sexual violence on campuses across the U.S. -- hey, sisters, look around? Former President Jimmy Carter says in his book, A Call to Action, "The world's discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive and ignored violation of basic human rights."

What will it take for our feminist leaders to speak out? What will it take for our politicians (both parties) to finally admit that this assault on every aspect of a woman's existence has gone far enough?

I'm a poet. Who listens to poets? Nobody! But since it seems to me that very few other women (with some exceptions) are pushing back against this ongoing and universal assault on our sex, I've (yes!) written a poem of protest. Laughable? I intend to write more about this gender war. But for now, here is a poem about birth control. Yes, a poem.

When it is said that the tea party fundamentalists (like all fundamentalists, in whatever religion) are obsessed with "lady parts" -- and their critics charge that they are condemning us to the "dark ages" -- I offer this poem in response.

If the "dark ages" are understood to be any century prior to the one in which we (briefly) live -- then surely, if we go back to 6th and 5th centuries, B.C.E., to huge Cyrene ship trade from North Africa to Rome and beyond, we find that the biggest "seller" was a plant called Silphium, whose resin was a highly effective form of birth control. So effective and so wildly popular was this plant that a whole economy was built around it, and a currency -- a silver coin depicting a woman bowing to Silphium was as common as quarters are now.

But there's more. The symbol of this "safe sex" plant (or its seedpod, which resembled a woman's private parts) became the shape of what we call the "heart," the romantic sign of love.

It's obvious that our heart muscle doesn't look like the Valentine cartoon that fuels are image of romance and affection. The Silphium plant, however, and its curvy "pod" was painted on signs in the ancient world advertising safe sex and gave us that symbol. Which our ancestors were smart enough to know was necessary, fair and respectful of women. And men.

So next time you see a Valentine, think of birth control. That's where that sweet red symbol came from.


The missing history of the heart is here
Where the shape of Love originated -
Double lobe of an ancient seedpod.

Senator, our universal symbol of Love, the heart,
did not come from a pumping lump, but from
this pharma sign in ancient doorways, on walls,

meant to mimic a woman's intimate parts.
The good plant's ovary: an ad for safe sex,
Love without fear, when one sipped its elixir.

Look! Here is my sister, a talking vagina, re-
Minding you that a woman's sex is not a draw-
bridge, though girls can learn to crank a chain.

Would that it grew again, Senator, recultivated
Centuries after it was harvested to extinction.
Would that we could rocket back to that one

Shimmering patch of North African till-able.
The only place on earth it consented to grow.
Call up the cargo ships again, the winged vessels.

Women waited in the world's harbors, they wait still.
Not for "I want you", but for "I want you in small doses".
Paid for in coins from the temple of Silphium: mint image,

a woman, bowing to a plant between her legs. We pay in hearts now,
fake shapes of romance, boxed Valentines from your Church of Holy Come, becoming an eyelash of cells you won't be Daddy to, yet stamp your face

on the Mommy coin. Babies & guns, Senator: the heart of America!
But the smiley faces are frowning now: they "heart" the Right.
The drawbridge draws in. My sister, the talking vagina, remains silent.