Tuesday, November 11, 2008


by Ellen Bass

My periods have changed. It is years
since I have swallowed ping and gray darvons, round
chalky midols from the bottle with the smiling girl.
Now I plan a quiet space,
protect myself those first few days when my uterus lets
go and I am an open anemone. I know
when my flow will come. I watch my mucous pace
changes like a dancer, follow the fall
and rise of my body heat. All this
and yet I never questioned them, those slim white handies.

It took me years to learn to use them
starting with Pursettes and a jar of vaseline.
I didn't even know where the hole was.
I didn't even know enough
to try to find one. I pushed until
only a little stuck out and hoped
that was far enough.
I tried every month through high school.

And now that I can change it in a moving car --
like Audrey Hepburn changing dresses in the taxi
in the last scene of Breakfast at Tiffany's --
I've got to give them up.

Tampons, I read, are
bleached, are
chemically treated to
compress better,
contain asbestos.
Good old asbestos. Once we learned not to shake it --
Johnson & Johnson's -- on our babies or diaphragms,
we thought we had it licked.

So what do we do? They're universal.
Even macrobiotics and lesbian separatists are hooked on them.
Go back to sanitary napkins?
Junior high, double napkins
on the heavy days, walking home damp underpants
chafing thighs. It's been a full twelve years
since I have worn one, since Spain when Marjorie pierced
my ears
and I unloaded half a suitcase of the big gauze pads in the
hotel trash.

Someone in my workshop suggested Tassaways, little
cups that catch the flow.
They've stopped making them,
we're told. Women found they could reuse them
and the company couldn't make enough
money that way. Besides,
the suction pulled the cervix out of shape.

Then diaphragms
It presses on me, one woman says.
So swollen these days. Too tender.

Menstrual extraction, a young woman says.
I heard about that. Ten minutes
and it's done.
But I do not trust putting tubes into my uterus each month.
We're told everything is safe
in the beginning.

the Indians used mosses.
I live in Aptos. We grow
succulents and pine.

I will buy mosses
when they sell them at the co-op.

Okay. It's like the whole birth control schmeer.
There just isn't a good way. Women bleed.
We bleed.
The blood flows out of us. We will bleed.
Blood paintings on our thighs; patterns
like river beds, blood on the chairs in
insurance offices, blood on Greyhound buses
and 747s, blood blots, flower forms
on the blue skirts of the stewardesses.
Blood on restaurant floors, supermarket aisles,
the steps of government buildings. Sidewalks will have blood trails,
like Gretel's bread crumbs. We can always find our way.

We will ease into rhythm together, it happens
when women live closely -- African tribes, college sororities --
our blood flowing on the same days. The first day
of our heaviest flow we will gather in Palmer, Massachusetts,
on the steps of Tampax, Inc. We'll have a bleed-in.
We'll smear blood on our faces. Max Factor
will join OB in bankruptcy. The perfume industry
will collapse, who needs
whale sperm, turtle oil, when we have free blood?
For a little while cleaning products will boom,
409, Lysol, Windex. But
the executives will give up. The cleaning woman is leaving a
red wet rivulet, as she scrubs down the previous stains.
It's no use. The men would have to
do it themselves, and that will never come up
for a vote at the Board. Women's clothing manufacturers, fancy
furniture, plush carpet, all will phase out. It's just not
practical. We will live the old ways.

Simple floors, dirt or concrete, can be hosed down
or straw can be cycled through the compost.
Simple clothes, none in summer. No more swimming pools.
Dogs will fall in love with us.
Swim in the river. Yes, swim in the river.
We'll feed the fish with our blood. Our blood
will neutralize the chemicals and dissolve the old car parts.
Our blood will detoxify the phosphates and the
PCBs. Our blood will feed the depleted soils.
Our blood will water the dry, tired surface of the earth.
We will bleed. We will bleed. We will
bleed until we bathe her in our blood and she turns
slippery new like a baby birthing.

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