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Laura C. Lippman

Moral Dilemma, Philly, 1972

Acts of Mercy


They came by bus, night-ride from Chicago,

carrying burdens they couldn’t afford.

Sweaty, sleepless, and scared, they straggled 


into a seedy waiting room, eased into purloined chairs 

against dirty walls. Me and my fellow first-years 

waited for them—nary a licensed doctor in sight.


We meant well, extracting our new stethoscopes

and blood pressure cuffs from our Lilly leather satchels.

A legion of felonious abortions loomed.


We were to pilot a clever newfangled tool

introduced by an inventor-psychologist

with the personal magnetism of a movie star.


He meant well, the only man there, performing

amid the pheromonic frenzy of feminists

circling round as he demonstrated his device.


Skirting the knife edge of the law, 

and risking our medical school education,

we clasped our newfangled cannulas close.


As the instruction began and I approached

the stirruped objects of curettage, my courage left me,

in spite of the rightness of this course.


I snuck out the back alley,

taking my new tools with me.  

My breaths, hard and deep,


condensed in the brisk outside air.

Guilty, scared, and shaking,

I steadied myself against the alley’s cold brick.

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