Right to life




One of the things I admire about poetry is that it acts as a course on philosophy for those who, like me, don’t particularly enjoy reading philosophy. While the classics that I have been subjected to—Aristotle, Plato, Socrates—may drone for pages in dizzying dialogue, the point of poetry is to say a great deal without saying much at all.

Saturday morning, I was sitting in my apartment, mulling over a cup of coffee and reading Marge Piercy. Piercy is one of the first poets I encountered; she has remained one among my favorites but, as I’ve become older, my interpretation of and relationship with her work has shifted. As a (mostly) grown woman, I understand her better now, and I understand the strength of her philosophy. Her work The Moon is Always Female is not always easy for me to read; in her writing, she embodies her femininity so boldly and fully, and I sometimes find it difficult to identify with. The poem “Right to life” however, is utterly relatable. And despite the fact that the poem was originally written c. late 1970s, it’s still surprisingly relevant. We are still fighting over the issue:

“A woman is not a pear tree
thrusting her fruit in mindless fecundity
into the world”

As per usual, Piercy seldom reprimands harshly; her words seem to convey a warm but firm tone, like a grade school teacher explaining a child’s behavior to an ignorant, but not unreachable, parent. She is even-tempered, and her sense of humor is somehow both understated and reproachful:

“A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.”

The word “feminism” has become dirty, to the point that some choose to support feminist issues while deliberately avoiding the actual word. Like “cunt”, “slut”, and “bitch” (and now, thanks to an overly orange circus peanut, “nasty”), “feminism” is probably a word that we need to carefully reclaim. With all that is happening in the realm of politics and social change, we can’t afford to not talk about it. To this end, Piercy offers a gentle, personal approach to feminist philosophy: her ultimatums are not violent, but they are firm:

“This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.”

The full poem “Right to life” by Marge Piercy can be found here.
The image featured here is Giovanni Strazza’s Veiled Virgin.


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