In 1968, my mother drove up fast behind the unwitting Ohio villagers, blowing her horn as if her life depended on it, intent on coercing the people ahead of her into pulling over. She was married to the mayor of Indian Hill Village, and she granted herself the authority to make citizens’ arrests. Her subjects usually cowered in their seats, stunned by her horn, the intolerable blasts.
High school senior, I cringed in the passenger seat, pretending that I didn’t exist—that I was paralyzed and dumb. The drivers weighed their options—they could either speed up to evade her or pull over to figure out what was going on.
Each time that spring, they steered their car to the side of the road, and my mother accosted them with her scream. My daughter is attending college this fall. She often prefaced the statement with a question, Do you know who am? I never understood why she asked.
Did she think that she could lord over any citizen because of her status as mayor’s wife or did she not know her own identity because of her manic-depressive illness? Years later, the same people talked to me after her memorial service. They had moved out of town; they had traveled from so far.
Pine Hollow Convict
people, bad enough,
sometimes disappear, prisoners
do it to each other—everything
taken away, what will happen
to his tens, thousands, films,
exhibits, writing, artifacts from Peru—
awaiting extradition to Tennessee
for trial, charges, no attorney—
what will happen, everything taken,
they put him in isolation, suicide
watch for three days, no clothes,
cardboard food, sliver of water—
took place fifteen years ago,
in therapy since, moonlight,
silent, crescent moon,
he says they made it up; they
make things up, and one admitted—
with trial, charges, cannot
afford attorney, no chance, no sun,
to sit in the sun again,
to breathe—the sun—
now a narrow beam from a thin
opening over dirty glass—
just after his 74th birthday
in Pine Hollow County Jail,
he spends his days pacing—
The doctor was in his office, sitting behind his desk. She had asked her neighbor to babysit so that she could rush in after she and her husband, Reginald, had sex. It wasn’t as bad as she thought it might be—sex on demand so she could race to the doctors and bare herself for a scraping from which the doctor could make a slide of Reggie’s living sperm. She wondered if it were possible to make love anywhere on command—the road, the beach—time and location being inessential to the physical act.
To duck into a closet, an alleyway, a side room, to mate—this was her duty, her only ambition now that she was over forty. She had cleared away all her other impulses just as the housefrau spring cleans her house, she had swept out all her other wants. One day, she woke up with the feeling that she was pregnant, the same bloated sensation that she felt before her first child was born.
It was particularly difficult that day to race into the Kaiser-Permanente Office to meet Dr. Kresca, the gynecology specialist assigned to her. Here he was making dire predictions of possible deformation. “Those sperm are unusual,” he opined as he leaned over the slide. “They can’t swim well. You saw how they travel in circles. We need sperm that swim straight. They have to get in and penetrate that tough crust. I don’t think that they’ll ever make it.”
He was calling her again from the microscope so that she might further examine the slide. She would always remember him there in his long white doctor’s garb, his thick Germanic accent, inviting her for a view. “Look here. These sperm are deformed. They are swimming around instead of forward,” he said in what sounded a gleeful voice, even more triumphant than the first time.
They had told her that her chances of becoming pregnant were “so remote that they weren’t worth talking about.” She wasn’t interested in responding to him. She couldn’t make sense of the slide with squiggles squirming around in a viscous gel. She wasn’t compelled to sit in the bare linoleum office. The waiting room was always so much more inviting, with each patient hiding a story, sometimes letting out brief tidbits.
To her, the sperm seemed odd, unreliable subjects for study with this particular conclusion, especially given the fact that she had already become pregnant, and she had already birthed a child, and especially after her husband had fathered a child in a previous marriage. But they had moved to a new town and consulted with a new fertility specialist after a year of trying, and here she was again beside a doctor waving microscopic results like a wand.
The doctor motioned for Reginald to enter the room and closed the door. “Your sperm count is still depressed,” he stated in a flat tone as he stared at the pink charts. “But my wife thinks she’s pregnant,” said Reginald, a confused edge to his voice.
“Must be a false pregnancy,” the doctor retorted without hesitation. “We see that all the time. Women who want children enough just reach for them in their subconscious, and they blow themselves up like a pufferfish without having any idea what they are doing.”
In her mind, the microscope protruded from a natural field, the leaves, the inchworms on the thistle bark. She hunched over in the garden planting seeds; she knew.
Margo Taft Stever’s collections include The End of Horses (Broadstone Books, 2022), Cracked Piano (CavanKerry Press, 2019) Shortlisted as Finalist and Honorable Mention for 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award; Ghost Moose Kattywompus Press, 2019; The Lunatic Ball (Kattywompus Press, 2015); The Hudson Line (Main Street Rag, 2012); Frozen Spring (Mid-List Press First Series Award, 2002); and Reading the Night Sky (Riverstone Poetry Chapbook Competition, 1996). Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Plume, Verse Daily, “Poem-A-Day” on poets.org, Prairie Schooner, Connecticut Review, Cincinnati Review, West Branch, New England Review, and upstreet. She is founder of the Hudson Valley Writers Center and founding and current co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. As 2021 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Bioethics Department of the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, she teaches a course on poetry and bioethics. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York www.margotaftstever.com.