Monday, March 28, 2005

The Unexpected Poetry of Prose

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not much for poetry. My favorite "poet" is Ogden Nash ("Doggerel!" my father exclaimed jocularly when I confessed this fact), and recently, when I forced myself to read Tennyson's "Enoch Arden," I was nearly lulled into comatosity. I sometimes think that people only write poetry when they lack the musical ability to write songs or the structural discipline to write short stories or novels or essays. Yes, some poets work within other genres, but please note that those poets are usually best known for their accomplishments in those other (more enjoyable) genres (e.g. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery). There are some poems that have stirred my soul (I'm not a complete philistine, you know), but, in general, my assessment of poetry is, "Those who can, write. Those who cannot, compose poetry."

Sometimes, though, I run across something in the prosy line that just reads to me like what poetry should be - beautiful ebb and flow of words with solid, rock-hard sense running underneath like a current - ideas presented so uniquely and mellifluously that the form they take transcends the subject and becomes art. This is the poetry to which I am drawn - poetry of meaningful communication and not just a bunch of flowery claptrap. One such piece is an open letter I found on the website of Libertarians for Life ( It is not surprising to find that these words were penned by a musician, since they are alive with music. I am posting them here (with all due credit to the source) for your reading pleasure.

An Open Letter to Eddie Vedder
When is a woman not a woman?
Therein lies the only clear refutation of a woman’s rights.
A woman’s rights —
seems a mere tautology, a redundant catch phrase.
Are not rights self evident?
Intrinsic assumptions of the inalienable?
So, when is a woman not a woman,
a right not a right?
When she doesn’t exist.
When does a woman become a woman?
Is it when her first ballot has been cast?
Or when she graduates from her class?
Is it when she makes a wish on her sweet sixteenth?
Would I be amiss if it were her first kiss?
Is it when she’s diagnosed by the boy next door?
Or as ambiguous as the cutting of the cord?
Is it the time it takes to travel the distance through the canal?
Or when she’s kicking and becomes viable?
Is it when her sex is discovered by a sonogram?
Or after eight weeks when the changes in her body will be mainly in dimension?
Is it when her brain waves are detected after 40 days?
Or is it around three weeks when her primitive heart beats?
Can there be only one true line of demarcation?
One finite measurable point in time that differentiates
life from non-life?
Womanhood from non-womanhood?
Rights from no right?
Is it the moment of conception —
that point when all of the above is set in motion?
That precise moment when
"a separate human individual, with her own genetic code,
needing only food, water, and oxygen, comes into existence"?
It is at that point,
"like the infant, the child, the adolescent,
that the conceptus is a being who is becoming,
not a becoming striving toward being.
She is not a potential life,
she is a life with great potential".
She is not the mother,
she is an other —
a somebody other than the mother.
A woman,
however beautiful, however complex when fully grown,
begins life as a single cell, a zygote —
that stage in human development through which we all pass.
She fulfills "the four criteria necessary to all life —
metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.
Her genetic makeup is established at conception,
determining to a great extent
her own individual, physical characteristics":
her eyes, her hair, her skin color, bone structure, her gender.
So let us not be confused,
"she did not come from a zygote — she once was a zygote.
She did not come from an embryo, she once was an embryo.
She did not come from a fetus, she once was a fetus".
She did not come from a little girl — she once was a little girl.
When is a woman not a woman?
The answer is absolute, non-negotiable.
To argue against would be to ignore the innate,
the fact of the matter.
The answer can never be a matter of opinion or choice.
This is not a metaphysical contention.
This is biology 101.
The answer is scientifically self-evident —
as inherent as the inalienable.
the ability to pursue happiness
is contingent upon liberty —
her liberty,
and her freedom is solely dependent upon
the mother of all human rights...
the right of life.

Gary Cherone
(June 1999)
[Quotations by Francis J. Beckwith]
Copyright ©1999, Gary Cherone
Credit for source must be given to Rock for Life.

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