I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a multigenre anthology with a focus on the crisis of reproductive rights in the United States. The book’s international supplement features sixteen additional works of fiction, nonfiction, and art by contributors from around the globe. Preorder the book, and receive the supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an e-book.

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Guilt Lessons and Other Poems
by Elisa Diaz Castelo
translated from Spanish by Kit Schluter

Guilt Lessons

I still remember my fifth-grade teacher asking us the question during class, her voice stern as if she were testing us on a very basic skill: If a girl walks out at night with a miniskirt and she is raped by a man, whose fault is it? Her long hands, her long skirt, her voice touching my skin. It’s the girl’s fault, she answers her own question, the girl’s fault, of course, and goes on to explain how it is that a girl walking out alone at night and dressed a certain way actually wants to get raped. The man, seeing her like that, what else can he do? I was ten. I was ten years old and my uniform was dirty at the knees. I stared at the stains of mud and felt ashamed. I thought it made sense: it must be the girl’s fault. For the first time I feared that light in the eyes of my male classmates. For the first time I wore my hoodie all day despite the heat. This is the country I grew up in. A country where being a woman is putting one’s life at risk, where ten women are murdered every day in the capital city alone. A country where abortion was once punishable with up to thirty years in jail. Where, in 2008, 95 percent of abortions were deemed unsafe and, for the last eight years, one state has denied victims of rape every single petition for legal abortion. This is why, when the Mexican Supreme Court, on September 7, 2021, ruled that penalizing abortion was unconstitutional, so many women I know broke down crying. While this new law is little more than a legal figure thus far, many of us hope it will translate into real, concrete changes in the lives of women. Meanwhile, if I go out at night, I still pull up my hair, wear baggy clothes, and scuttle, looking back. It’s not the danger—it’s not only that. It takes a lifetime to unlearn this guilt.

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Field Guide to Holding Babies

for Aurelia

My friend’s afraid to hold them in her arms,
and I get it: their uncertain weight,
all baldness, mouth, and tiny fingernails.
Plus, there’s always some aunt cawing:
Hold his head up!
And there are so many things to keep in mind:
support their backs, keep them from crying,
and don’t forget the milk boiling away on the stove.

I don’t know if we were made for such fuss.
We can barely make do with our own little lives;
the white babble of the empty page
is almost always enough, the pointer
that blinks impatiently on the screen.
The sound made by words clacking together
like glass beads is enough for us.
We can’t tell one baby’s cry from another’s,
can’t decipher their eighth-note scores.

To help my friend get over her dread,
I suggest she think
about the crook of the arm, both firm and relaxed,
of someone bending down to write at a table.

Even so, my friend’s still scared
of those brats who writhe around
and insist on falling, all soap
that slides through grasping hands,
slippery names, things
that break into a scream
against the floor.

It’s best
to hold them tight against the breast,
for our frugal heartbeat to soothe them
and, if standing, to rock back and forth
like one who, hesitating, can’t decide
in what direction to take the first step.

And the gaping, raw flowers of their mouths—
open, imperious—it’s best not to look at them.

They’re hirsute motion, rocambole.
Two rows of teeth sprout in their shark
gums; their bones are
malleable as molten silver.
They do nothing but die
little by little, devouring the minutes
with their astonished tears.
They’re all commissures, chromosomes,
and already their quick and
crisp heartbeats break them
away from us.

Nevertheless, we must
hold them, embrace
their lukewarm bodies
of freshly baked bread.
And swear off their blind autonomy,
their urge to escape us from here on out.

They weigh so little and yet are heavy to hold.
Maybe that’s what it means
to carry someone else’s life,
to hold their body’s advantage in our arms,
with no other solution than to withdraw a little
from ourselves, to be the base
of the statue, the column,
to be a supporting role in some other life,
a remote vigil—to have no words
for anyone, nor any grasp
of comfort’s shape.

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Map of Invisible Bodies

Some stars are failed attempts. Stars that never managed to become stars, to become themselves. They were too small from the start, so they couldn’t. They were too dense, so the light couldn’t: it stayed still at the body’s center. Little celestial bodies of shadow populate the void. Nobody sees them, and yet. Solipsistic and dense, heavy as hell, they dance their imbalance in space. They are the insomniac fetuses of the universe. They are almost what they would be, but they abstain. In the dream, I had a tumor in my ovaries; my mom told me in a whisper. A body that was my own had grown inside me. The child I didn’t have. Right now, though no one sees them, these stars shine with their hardly-light. They’re purple, red; they vibrate in muted color schemes. Far, invisible. One of them is rocking near the solar system. Delinquent. Aloof. It’s the child I didn’t have, I tell myself. They revolve, full of bones, seeking planets that might adopt them, seeking to become the center of something. Maybe we’re all like them: an abortion of ourselves, a failed star. They stayed a few yards away from their names. They haven’t managed to shine and consume themselves. Instead, they shrivel up like fruit in the icebox, gathering ever more densely in their bodies, growing cold. Many are the same temperature as human skin. In the dream, my mom told me its name, its almost-name, but I couldn’t hear it. I dreamt about the procedure, the quick code of the scalpel, the black dove, the body becoming body and nothing more, shining in its penumbra. A tumor is perhaps just a child that never gets born, a body within, a child insisting. In the dream, they handed me the round tumor and I held it in my hands. We are what we almost were, I said. The child I didn’t have. Somewhere, its body stripped of shine, rounded down to an age that never. It grew, but spherically and precise, barely warm. My life is a map of its absence. A constellation of interrupted stars that keep—

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My mother bathed in the dark        her shadow        soaked
    the tiles        the droplets’        short-term fall
I listened to her in a black and white        silence        I was just a girl
just barely        broad strokes        I was afraid        she’d disappear
that the        water                 would erase her
outside our life        the dogs wander the neighborhood
streets                         blinded by hunger        antimatter hardly exists
    destroys itself         maculate         mother
of half-demolished houses        patron saint of
        Chernobyl         antimatter can’t        be conserved
as it reacts with any particle        it touches        it annihilates
        itself        so many gods        and still our feet get cold
when we try to fall asleep        my mother        was a new tooth
a distant        inhabitable        planet where I will never go
what is        antimatter?        queen assumed into heaven
queen of all that no longer        keeper        of the memories
    of the dead        the houses        of the moth
a mother        is a bag of wet        dirt
our neighbor passed down        his train collection to his son
        miniature years of train tracks        and steam
one day I found them        in the trash        it costs
63 trillion dollars               to produce a gram
        of antimatter           the dandelion a boy
blows over the concrete        a tennis court abandoned for years
where my mom and I        antimatter        queen of premonitions
       that don’t come true        lady       of unstrung violins
patron saint of an orphan’s        baby teeth
goddess of things that happen in spite of themselves
    an instant        the first time        I gave myself a pregnancy test
        it was in the bathroom        of a huge stadium        the echo
was the only thing that lived in me        there        sometimes       it’s
for my mom        to exist        a mother cuts her son’s
    umbilical cord with the teeth        of her own mother        God        is
      a mother        is full of blood        she empties out
all the lost objects of an old woman        the dead dog and its
rings        my friends have forgotten        in the houses of men
        who have disappeared        my mother takes a bath at night
        the water
like a thousand lukewarm needles        everything        my mother
        remembers        that I
    won’t be able to keep when she dies
        goddess of the 404 error        of waiting rooms
memories that no one revisits        silent highways        lights that
    a TV illuminating        an empty room        a tape without a
      dented songs        the exact circumference        of planets
thousands of light-years away        after        giving birth
    some women eat        their placentas        they say
      it’s nutrient rich         maybe that’s what being a mother is:
devouring        oneself        with someone else’s mouth.

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Elisa Díaz Castelo is the winner of the Bellas Artes Poetry Prize 2020 for El reino de lo no lineal; the Alonso Vidal National Poetry Prize 2017 for her first collection, Principia (Tierra Adentro, Mexico); and the Bellas Artes Prize in Literary Translation 2019 for her rendering in Spanish of Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds. With the support of the Fulbright and Goldwater scholarships, she completed an MFA in creative writing (poetry) at New York University (2013–15).

Kit Schluter is the author of Pierrot’s Fingernails (Canarium Books, 2020) and recently translated Rafael Bernal’s His Name Was Death (New Directions, 2021), Olivia Tapiero’s Phototaxis (Nightboat Books, 2021), and Bruno Darío’s feast, fright (Ugly Duckling Presse, forthcoming). He lives in Mexico City.

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