Content Warning: blood, menstruation, fertility, needles
Betty Doyle – The Phlebotomist
The PVC seat cover is torn,
and my Mary Janes squeal against
regulation grey linoleum,
the sound ricocheting
amongst the pale walls.
The nurse cannot find a vein
in the crook of my elbow,
the back of my hand, my knuckle,
my foot. She says it is the Irish blood
in me – something in my genes
makes me flinty.
My mother is the same.
The nurse tells me to focus
on the clock opposite, to count backwards.
I start at twelve.
My friends are in Biology right now,
labelling diagrams with chewed-up pencils,
highlighting the ovaries, the womb,
misspelling fallopian tubes.
At ten, the outline of the clock
begins to bend and wobble
in my iris.
The numbers dance about, refracted,
and I dribble blue-black mascara,
staining my school tie,
stray crumbs stinging
in my water line.
At eight, the names of numbers
hitch at the back of my throat,
the vowels quivering
along red-raw chords.
I can feel the sharp silver point
searching under my skin.
I cannot even fill one vial
with the glaring-yellow top.
The nurse lets me go
with a gauze-taped knuckle.
It’s Art class. I sit in the toilets
until the bell rings,
my face red and wet and pressed
against the cold piss-rank tiles.
The fear settles into the lining of my stomach
both hot and cold.
Trying to walk, to move my pelvis and hips
is stiff, as if the joints are set metal.
Passing through the pull of busy corridors,
pretending that it was routine, checking my vitamin D.
Slowly thumbing the paper tape away,
watching my skin pull and feeling a thrill
at the small deliberate hurt, making it last,
thinking that this is what I deserve.
Examining the single spot of blood left on the gauze,
so much smaller than I expected,
too small to hold my undeserving,
my doctor’s letter, the end of the line.
Betty Doyle is a poet and Creative Writing tutor from Merseyside. Her work has been published in Agenda, Butcher’s Dog, The North, and Poetry Wales, amongst others, and her poem ‘I am become a woman’ placed second in BRAG magazine’s inaugural poetry prize. She has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing, researching infertility poetics. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Girl Parts, was published by Verve Poetry Press in Spring 2022.
Artwork: Cup 2: Ink by Laura Warner
Laura Warner (she/her) is a poet and PhD researcher at the University of Exeter. Her project, Menstrual Poetics, uses poetry to explore the impact of menstrual politics on lived experience of the condition endometriosis. Her work has appeared in Poetry Wales, Streetcake Magazine, Tangled Locks Journal, and Lucy Writers Platform.
Twitter: @warner_writer @MenstrualPoetic