Writing about periods — and finding a home for it

I’m so happy my poem “On it” found a home in Straight Forward Poetry last month. This poem is very close to my heart and awakening as a feminist and feminist poet.

I often visited family in Israel while growing up. When I was 13, my stepmother’s father passed away and we traveled to the country for his funeral. Being a young, maturing woman, I got my period that year — the year of my Bat Mitzvah, so appropriate. I was “on it” the week of the funeral.

On the morning of the funeral, my dad came over to me and my sister awkwardly. He asked quietly, “Are you on it?” At first I didn’t know what he meant. Then I started to realize. My dad explained that if I still had my period, I couldn’t go to the funeral. “But why?” I asked. It’s unfortunate that you can’t come, but the men think it’s dirty. I didn’t know my stepmother’s family was so religious, or that certain customs are so important in Israel. How would the men even know? I was wearing pads on my underwear, not on my face!

But then it made sense. In certain synagogues and Jewish sects, women cover their hair, wear wigs, and don long skirts, women and men are separated in prayer rooms. At the Western Wall, the women’s prayer side is much smaller than the men’s. Women are a distraction that should be kept away while men are praying and becoming closer to G-d. I waited at my stepmother’s mother’s house with my younger sister while my dad, stepmother, and the other men and male cousins attended the funeral. It wasn’t very long. My sister and I probably watched a few cartoons, read, and played imagination games.

Years later, I became angry at the memory and the fact that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to a man who died. It’s not like my period would ever go away (until menopause, of course). I will always be on it. Had the men been talking about me, a little girl, on her period, and how they would have to keep me away? And dirty — is your inside vital fluid a dirty thing? I was disappointed that my dad called periods dirty, or that he just passed on that view. He didn’t tell me that no, they’re actually not dirty. Those men are ignorant and rude. Your body is doing a natural, beautiful thing. You’re growing up. He just passed the information on that I wouldn’t be able to come, I guess assuming I was a little girl and it didn’t matter, and left with the others. I began to see this story and memory was ripe poetic material. And so “On it” was born. If you want to read it, please purchase Issue Nine of Straight Forward Poetry. I hope you enjoy, discuss, and question.

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