Browsing Tag

Carmen Calatayud

Abortion, Guest Posts

The Boy With No Name

April 14, 2017

By Carmen Calatayud

When my son died
a thousand miles away
I made my arms a cradle.
~Kelle Groom, from the poem “Marguerite”

In the dream, it’s wintertime and I hate winter. I’m scared of the cold in the dream as well as in real life because my body can never get warm enough.

There is a hill with a naked tree, its limbs shivering. There is snow and wind and a dead grey sky, as though winter will never end. I’m not sure I can survive if there’s no escape from the cold.

Then a voice: I know this is the winter of your discontent. I have not forsaken you.

I wake up sobbing and realize I was weeping in my dream. I’m weeping into my pillow even though there’s bright desert sunlight streaming into this bedroom in Tucson. This voice, a mixture of Shakespeare and Jesus, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a dream. I’m convinced it was the voice of some deity or higher power that hasn’t forgotten me. With a broken voice, choppy from the sobs, I tell my boyfriend about the dream.

This dream comes one week before I learn the reason I’ve been feeling so sick for the past 2 ½ months, much more than usual. I’m pregnant.


When I was the moon, I wasn’t whole. Just a blue half-circle drifting through the sky. After I sloughed off pieces of myself I became a quarter moon, a sliver of light that gingerly rocks back and forth like a porch swing.

This is what I remember after the abortion—just a sliver of me being left, and a sliver of a child being sucked out of my uterus with a vacuum that hurt more than I could have imagined. It hurt so badly that I asked the doctor to stop. He couldn’t. I got dizzy from the sharpness of the puncture and suction.

My son was sucked out of me and spit into the sky. I couldn’t imagine where else he could go, so I saw his pieces in the Sonoran Desert darkness.

Each small star was a spark of my boy, glitter above me every night.


I go to the doctor because I feel sick, more than I usually do from what is chronic fatigue syndrome. Since the doctor is concerned about an ovarian cyst, she does a sonogram. I look at the screen as she drags the gel-covered wand back and forth across my skin, until a black and white picture appears.

“You’re pregnant.”

“Are you sure?” I’m stunned and feel my cheeks burn from the shame that I’m pregnant and didn’t know it. I’ve been nauseous for weeks, and had missed my period, but my period was already erratic. I thought it was the flu.

It’s a few days before the 12-week cut off for legal abortions, so the doctor reminds me that I have to decide quickly.

“I’ll support you whatever you decide,” she reassures me, her voice steady, warm. Then she pauses and I hold my breath.

“But you need to know that this is going to be a difficult pregnancy.”

I imagine what it would be like to hold my son. What he would look like, how he would sound. An August-born boy. I consider who his father is: a father of two young children who need and deserve attention, a heavy drinker, cocaine user and gambler who insists he is my soul mate. All of these addictions wash through my insides and create a pool that never drains. My body is heavy with this water, swollen and scared.


Little boy, if circumstances were different, I might have had you. I might have weathered being sick for nine months straight. But I didn’t believe I could survive what my life had become and hold you above it.

I sit outside the apartment door on a warm winter night in the desert. The stars are out. I see pieces of you float freely and sparkle in this universal life of yours.

You race across the Milky Way while my life stands still on Earth.

I’m stale and pale white, afraid of your father, an empty future, and the shrinking amount of change in my jar.

Poet and writer Carmen Calatayud is the daughter of immigrants: a Spanish father and Irish mother. Her book In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and a finalist for the Andrés Montoya Book Prize. Recently her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Origins and Cutthroat. The Boy with No Name is an excerpt from her memoir. Visit 

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Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Hope By The Numbers.

January 17, 2014

By Carmen Calatayud

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. ~Vaclav Havel

Plain brown hair in pigtails with light-blue cat glasses, the kind with silver stars in each corner. That’s what I looked like in grade school, and if you’re wondering about the cat glasses, well, it was the late 60s and early 70s. If you met me then, you would have thought my life was full of hope. I lived in an upper middle-class neighborhood. I went to a Catholic school and got a good education. We had plenty of the necessary stuff, like food (Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, tater tots and Twinkies) clothing, and the non-essentials: board games and shelves filled with books.

There was one major hitch: my dad was crazy violent and I never knew when he would explode.

Dad’s explosions equaled yells, screams, face slapping, punches to the shoulders and a belt he pulled from the top, thin drawer of his Ethan Allen-esque dresser. The dormant brown and black belts were curled into stiff snakes that laid next to each other.

During the fourth grade, when my weakness in math became clear, my father tutored me at the dining room table for two to three hours a night, yelling at me and slapping or punching me each time I got the answer wrong. I have a habit of leaning to the right whether I’m sitting or standing, and I finally figured out that this is because my dad punched me on my left side during these tutoring sessions. Every night that school year was a one-sided war I lost. My mother was usually doing laundry downstairs and acted as though she didn’t hear what was going on. A few times when my screams were impossible to ignore, she came upstairs and asked my father to stop. Please, that’s enough! By that point I was shaking, sobbing, and bruised.

Each morning, we pretended that nothing had happened. Pretending to be normal became my ritual, and the ritual developed into a mask. Wearing the mask is so ingrained as a facial habit that I don’t even realize how much I look like a manikan in the display window at Sears.

In high school, I suffered through freshman algebra and got a D for a final grade. I hid my report card that June, terrified of what my dad would do. When my mother told my dad—without warning me—that I had hidden it, he came to my sky blue bedroom and asked to see my report card. I was standing in front of the dresser, the off-white one with grey and blue birds painted on it.

Well of course, I lied, and said that it hadn’t come in the mail yet. That lie triggered one of the worst beatings he gave me. My arms and legs were covered with welts and blue bruises from the blows of his hands and belt. I imagined that these bruised looked different than the usual ones. I watched them turn purple, the royal purple of an Arizona sunset. Struggling to recover in my bedroom, my mom came in to soothe me, or so I hoped.

“I’m gonna call the police. I’m gonna report this abuse,” I said quietly to my mom. At 14, I was starting to access chunks of anger in my brain and body.

“C’mon, it’s not that bad.  You’ll be fine,” she said. Yes, I hoped that she’d agree with me, that she’d sit next to me with her arm around me as I made the call. Existing in my skin in that moment, I half-expected a bone to pop out from the pain. But nothing popped and I began to focus on the hope that in 4 years, I’d escape.

So back to math. I received a B in sophomore geometry without any help. Because geometry used shapes, words and phrases, it was easier to grasp. That year I was free from my father’s beatings and screaming, at least about my grades in math.

By my senior year, I was faced with taking trigonometry. I opened the book and knew I was reading hieroglyphics. After getting Cs and Ds on the first few quizzes I felt hopeless, but then my friend Grace offered to tutor me. Grace had a talent for math and science, and the thought of someone helping me who wouldn’t scream or hit me was wild. After several tutoring sessions with Grace, our class had a test, and I received an A-. I chuckled inside at this miracle and the reaction on my classmates’ faces. Margi scrunched her forehead and whispered, “YOU got an A-?” The truth was that Grace worked hard to help me, and I had studied hard. I could do this.

About a month after getting that A-, I dropped the trig class without telling my dad or my mom. Yeah, I quit. I knew I didn’t need it for college, where I planned on majoring in English or Communications. I realized that I no longer had to prove my math skills. I could do well if I really had to, given that I put intense energy and time into studying, but now I could say no more. I was free.

With that decision at 17, the fear I experienced the first time I saw a number line above the chalkboard in kindergarten started to dissipate. The fear of my dad was dissipating, too. I hoped that if I moved away from math and what it symbolized, maybe I could move away from my father and the memories of purple bruises and brown belt blows.

That I can do anything in this life that’s connected to math—which usually means paying bills—is something I now count as an achievement. At times I had high hopes that I would conquer math. I would stand at the math mountaintop after a long, arduous climb, glowing with sweat, and plant my flag. I would show everyone that I could master numbers.

My hope for math has changed. Now I hope that I can respond gracefully instead of react or shut down when numbers arise in my life.

My hope for my life has changed. Now I hope that those long-faded bruises will give me the strength to offer kindness—or at least a goofy-looking smile to everyone I meet.

Hope is a lens that we look through, and if we look far enough we see Faith. Actually, Hope and Faith are sisters.

If hope is your watered-down version of faith for now, so be it. Even if your way of coping right now is what others may call false hope, fine. You can’t lose hope. It’s still here, in a precious little box on your nighttable and mine, quietly waiting for us to open it.

Hope is the beginning of healing. And yes, it makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Carmen Calatayud's first poetry collection In the Company of Spirits was published in 2012 by Press 53. In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She’s a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner. Her poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, La Bloga, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and the anthology DC Poets Against the War. She’s a poet moderator for Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook group that features poetry and news about Arizona’s immigration law that legalized racial profiling. Carmen is a mind-body psychotherapist in Washington, DC, and her memoir is in progress. Visit Carmen online at

Carmen Calatayud

Carmen Calatayud’s first poetry collection In the Company of Spirits was published in 2012 by Press 53. In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She’s a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner. Her poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Borderlands: Texas Poetry ReviewCutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, La Bloga, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and the anthology DC Poets Against the War. She’s a poet moderator for Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook group that features poetry and news about Arizona’s immigration law that legalized racial profiling. Carmen is a mind-body psychotherapist in Washington, DC, and her memoir is in progress. Visit Carmen online at