Poetry Sunday: “End of the Line,” by Kate Peper


End of the Line

My German great uncle lost all
five sons in WWII, placed
the telegrams with their photos
between pages of the family Bible:
We will endure as God wills.
Five gold stars on the jamb.

One aunt survived two husbands,
had no children.
In her wingback chair
she told my mother exactly
where all she owned would go:
My spirit to Heaven, everything
else is labeled. Under each lamp,
porcelain bird, and bookend,
a name on a piece of tape.

At eighteen, I learned
I couldn’t have children.
On a plastic torso the doctor
covered the uterus and vagina
with his palm and said,
These parts are missing,
but you have functioning ovaries.

I didn’t hear his voice after that,
just imagined each egg released
into her own dark passage,
entering a terminal without lights,
with no one to meet her.


First published in Cimarron Review. From Dipped in Black Water (Finishing Line Press 2017), available here.


Kate Peper’s chapbook, Dipped In Black Water, won the New Women’s Voices Award from Finishing Line Press and is forthcoming this year. Her poems have been nominated three times for a Pushcart and have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Cimarron Review, Gargoyle, Rattle, Tar River Review, and others. She lives just north of San Francisco with her husband and semi-feral dog, Hannah. Peper is an avid watercolorist, and you can see some of her work on her website, www.peperprojects.com/#home.




Poet’s Note

This poem represents my first stab at writing about MRKH (Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser) syndrome. This is a congenital abnormality characterized by the absence of the vagina, cervix, and uterus. As the poem indicates, I was diagnosed at 18. However, I chose to spend decades pretending this news didn’t affect me. It wasn’t until menopause that feelings of complete loss and anger arose over the loss of the chance to become pregnant and birth a child and anger at myself for hating my body all those years. It’s only since I wrote this poem that I’ve started to “call my body back” to myself and accept it as a gift.

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