By Laura Read

Your vagina is beginning to devitalize,
the doctor explained, when I asked him why
I had had so many urinary tract infections lately.
The first thing I thought was that I should say
No, your vagina is devitalizing, because I have
two teenage sons, and that is what passes for wit
in our house. But then I got lost in the fact
that he didn’t, in fact, have a vagina,
and I thought I should point that out instead
because in some circles—say, mine—
that would be an insult. Then, in the little
room inside my mind where Dorothy Parker
was holding court at the Algonquin,
I thought maybe devitalize is just a medical term,
give the guy a break. But I didn’t even know
this man. Couldn’t he just give me a prescription
and say something vague about aging?
What about euphemism? I guess devitalize
was one because he went on to more vividly
explain that my tissues were, frankly, deteriorating.
At that point, I was thinking But you haven’t even
seen the area in question
and How did you get
this far without knowing how to talk to women?

Devitalize reminds me of de-ice which is what
I was doing just before this tricky moment
at the Urgent Care. My son was late to Algebra
because it’s really cold and it took a while
to clean the car. And at 8:00 the door
where he usually goes in automatically closes,
so I had to take him around to the front,
and he dropped his phone in the snow
and it got run over, so now there’s a crack
in the screen. He wants me to replace it,
but I said, No, it still works.

Today’s poem previously appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Volume 68, No. 1. Winter 2018, and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Laura Read’s first collection of poems, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral, was published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her second collection, Dresses from the Old Country, will be published by BOA in fall of 2018. She teaches English at Spokane Falls Community College.

Guest Editor’s Note: This poem moves through thought and returns to previous memory in a deceptively effortless progression, as if listening to someone recount an experience in conversation. The speaker fixates on a word that informs the tone of the experience and the poem: devitalize. This word takes her down a linguistic path that leads to another path and another, but, unlike Robert Frost, she returns to the fork in the road at the end of the poem with her response to her son that is meant for the insensitive doctor: “No, it still works.”

The allusive dark humor of Dorothy Parker is conjured as a familiar satirical connection and an anchor for association or a metaphorical leap. The “little room” inside the speaker’s mind is where pithy retorts are stored for occasions such as the encounter at the Urgent Care clinic, but she doesn’t respond in the way that she wants to, keeping her thoughts to herself, as many women do in these situations when they are being told that their bodies have failed them in some way by doctors who make assumptions without being completely sure.

The significant linguistic turn the speaker takes to a new word: “Devitalize reminds me of de-ice” leads her to recent memory, and the experience of taking her son to school that morning evokes mournful anger and defiance in the face of a doctor’s proclamation that a vital part of her female-ness is deteriorating. The details are important in her reliving the moments with her son as she is sitting in the clinic, and seemingly mundane facts become the thematic crux, informing the reader how life and language connect to produce intense emotion when we least expect it.

Want to read more by and about Laura Read?
Laura Read’s Official Website

Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.


After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


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