Letters

Help us appreciate our periods

Asked by: Four Amazing Females

Answered by: Diana Khoi Nguyen

Four Amazing Females, Philadelphia, USA

Can you help us process and appreciate our periods? We don’t think children are the goal, and we think that Eve may be to blame or females just have to suffer. We know that Advil is a solution. Sometimes, periods “make us want to end it all”. But in the end, we know that we are life, and periods represent life. Last, these damn period projects are too damn expansive! We need to be healed and appreciate our bodies.


DKN:

Periods very much represent women’s life—from pre-menstrual times, to menarche, The Years of Bleeding, to stages of menopause. It’s all fraught: when will the blood come, could it never come, why all the attendant symptoms wreaking havoc on a woman’s daily, weekly life? Periods punctuate a life, and while we can approximate or get very close to predicting its patterns and existence, periods elude full apprehension.

Please forgive this anecdote: in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and the major observable symptom of this condition was my lack of periods. Presence of absence. On the day of my diagnosis, I bought an orange wristwatch. But then there were two important punctuation moments in my life: the morning after ending a major relationship in my 20s, I woke up to the bloom of menstrual blood in the bedsheets. Then, in my 30s, I met a man after moving to a new state, and inexplicably, I started having regular, 28-day cycle periods for the first time in my life (I later married him). What were my periods and lack of periods telling me? Coincidence, sure, but it’s fun to perform hindsight menstrual augury. 

Yes, children aren’t the goal, and maybe we women have to suffer, but I think this mutual punctuation affords us a particular intimacy and community—I’ve been trying to orient myself toward what gifts might be present in things. It is my hope that as a larger collective, or a smaller one of four, that no individual choses “to end it all.” Let us bear witness to the difficult moments of each other, weekly, monthly—let us not ever be alone in our suffering. Yes, we need to be healed, yes, we need decades and millions more invested in gynecological research to find treatments for endometriosis and other debilitating menstruation-related diseases.

I find myself reaching for the irreverence, indignity, anger, and jubilance of the late Bernadette Mayer:

Ode on Periods

the penis is something that fits into the vagina
so’s the tampax or sponge
therefore Aristotle never thought of women at all
the penis like a tree fits into mouth, hands and asshole too
it can be the subject of an academic poem
disguised as a sloop, catapult or catamaran’s mastpole
never the monthly menstruation will she
belie tradition’s bloody demagoguery enough
to appear in the rough in a poem in a monthly
I dream I had a deep cut on my finger
filled with a delicious tofu cake
and when you took off your clothes your penis
was among them hanging by a cord on a hook
I took it down hoping its disassociation from being
would not thus prevent its manly erection from existing
and therefore I tried it out and it went well
such as license as mine perhaps made it swell independent
I think the world is all fucked up in many ways (see footnotes)
and one of these is the apparent interdiction in dumb poetic tradition
of speaking of and being heard on the glories of sublime menstruation

I first got my period when I was twelve the day my father died
at least I knew what it was, some girls didn’t then
we were told you can’t go swimming but don’t you wanna have children
so much for confessionalism
I won’t call on the moon like in a real poem
or anthropology or the bible or talk about being untouchable
or power etc. I’ve nothing at all to say but to exercise
my freedom to speak about everything

now that poems’ve got everything in them
even rhetoric and dailiness plus the names of things again
including flowers like the spotted touch-me-not
so inviting to hummingbirds
and I’m writing one
I’d like to mention or say blatantly
I got my period today
probably like nobody
certainly in the nineteenth century ever did
and if you really wanna know
most of us you know
all get ours on the same day no kidding
and we talk about it frequently and peripatetically
Alice with Peggy Peggy with Marion Marion with me me with Anne
Anne with Alice Peggy with me Grace with Peggy Marion with Grace

So Friends! Hold the bloody sponge up!
For all to see!

-Bernadette Mayer

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