The Beautiful Devastation of Words: A New Poetry Collection from a Powerful Black Writer
Tears were rolling down my face as I sat in my car, the radio at full volume. As I listened to prize-winning Denver-based poet Dominique Christina read from her new collection Anarcha Speaks (https://www.amazon.com/Anarcha-Speaks-History-National-Poetry/dp/0807009210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539958017&sr=8-1&keywords=anarcha+speaks).
Her voice thick with tears and emotion, she spoke the imagined words of an enslaved woman, whose body was used by Dr. Marion Sims to establish the then-brand new field of gynecology in the early 1800s.
Thirty operations. No anaesthesia.
Trapped for years as a lab animal.
Sims was lauded for his work.
Anarcha, the slave on whose body he performed his torture (among others, kept like rats), was hardly a footnote.
The Colorado Public Radio program which features the poet passionately reading from her collection, which is about as powerful an experience as this gets, is here:
Denver Poet Gives Voice To Enslaved Black Woman Who Endured Medical Experiments
It's just one horrifying, but little-known, story in the history of American slavery. How in the 1800s, Dr. J. Marion…
If you are not familiar with this woman’s work, I would respectfully submit that you should be.
It is raw, intense, heartbreaking.
As women, all women, who owe these nearly-forgotten slaves for their unwilling contribution to the field of women’s health,
We owe them our attention. Our respect. Our listening ears and open hearts.
We need to weep for them. With them. We need to honor them.
We need to feel their pain and hear their voices.
For so little has changed. For all of us as women. For Black women. Women of color. All of us.
Here is the 1936 story of Sims, referred to as a “genius.” No mention whatsoever of whom he tortured, for how long and with what instruments. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1965916/pdf/bullnyacadmed00857-0007.pdf
From this piece, The career of Sims reads like a fairy tale.
One has to wonder precisely how much the slave women like Anarcha, subject to repeated operations and experiments, bloodletting and brutality, felt like princesses in this monster’s so-called fairy tale. The common belief of the times was that Black people didn’t feel pain as whites did. This allowed Sims to cut and dig away with impunity. From such viciousness came the speculum, with which every woman who has ever undergone an ObGyn exam is familiar.
Thirty times. No anaesthesia.
No medical provider who ever opens the lips of my vagina with one of these will ever be seen without the specter of Dr. Sims hovering over their shoulders. Anarcha’s pain informing the cost of my white woman’s medical care.
Donimique Christine has exumed the truth. The true cost of progress. And with it she has given voice to the victims of heartlessness, slavery, and torture, all in the name of giving the white women at the time proper care.
This is a part of history, women’s history, Black women’s history, slave history that we all own, as women.
My heartfelt thanks to Colorado Public Radio for grabbing me by the heart and squeezing it very, very hard.
My immense thanks to poet Dominique Christine for her courage, determination, bravery. Above all, her words.
Her damaging, destructive, incredible, heartbreaking true words.