The lady in blue sets the scene – tubes, washed tables, and her legs spread open. She is worried. She feels the everyone watching her and then, she feels like there are "metal horses gnawin [her] womb" (36). She did not mean to get pregnant, and right now, she just wants to get all the blood off of her.
She proclaims desperately that she could not bear to have her friends see her pregnant or witness this "dyin dangling tween [her] legs," so she has come to the abortion clinic alone. She does not speak throughout the procedure, but then she cries for the rods to be taken out of her because it hurts. No one is there to comfort her, though, because she was too embarrassed to tell anyone that she was pregnant.
Soft repetitions of the word "sechita" emerge from the wings. The lady in purple enters. She conjures up a moody bayou scene filled with "quadroon balls," okra, and "poor white trash" singing amongst the eerie sounds of the swamp.
The lady in green comes in, calling herself Sechita. She describes Sechita's life in the bayou. She is all dressed up for the Creole carnival celebration which is about to start in Natchez, MS. She is inside a tent wearing red garters, black-and-yellow stockings, an orange can-can skirt. She embodies the spirit of her namesake, Sechita, the Egyptian goddess of creativity from the 2nd millennium. She has crimson oil on her cheeks and her eyebrows are shaped, even though the Natchez grime gets everywhere as if "God [is]... wipin his feet in her face/."
As part of the celebration, the "mulatto" wrestler, Raul, was supposed to win a fixed match against the "half caste" named "searin eagle." After hearing the "redneck whoops n slappin on the back" that signal the end of the match, Sechita freezes her expression, making her face like Nefertiti, and thrusts her foot through the curtain. She moves boldly, as if she were a goddess of love from Egypt. She is performing rites, conjuring the spirit and the men, who throw coins "tween her thighs." She continues to "[kick] viciously thru the nite/catchin stars tween her toes" (39).
The ladies in green and purple leave, and the lady in brown enters.
The lady in brown describes finding Toussaint in the library near the train tracks. She wandered into the adult reading room (where she was not supposed to be) and found him. She calls him her "first black man" because he refused to be a slave and did not let white men, "not napolean/not maximillien/not robespierre" tell him anything. Reading about Toussaint L'Ouverture was "the beginning of my reality" for the lady in brown. She entered a contest to see which "colored child" could read 15 books in three weeks and the lady in brown won, but she was disqualified because she went into the adult reading room and read about Toussaint instead of reading the children's books.
Even though Toussaint L'Ouverture was dead, he was alive to her. She pictured him in the citadel [in Haiti], leading an army of zombies (the spirits of dead Africans) against the French. She calls Toussaint L'Ouverture her "secret lover at age 8" whom she "entertained" in her bedroom/widda flashlight under [her] covers." In 1955, "not a good year for lil blk girls," she decided to run away from her "integrated home / integrated street / integrated school" (41) and go to Haiti.
She claims that Toussaint accompanied her on the streetcar (even though only she could see him). Together, they walked through north St. Louis, which is where where the French settlers used to live but is now filled with "tiny brick houses all huddled together/wit barely missin windows & shingles uneven/wit colored kids playin & women on low porches sippin beer." Their plan was to stow away on a boat to New Orleans, and from there, the lady in brown and Toussaint would catch a "creole fishin-rig for port-au-prince" where they could read and talk and eat fried bananas.
On the way to the boats, a young boy yelled out to the lady in brown, commanding her to come over and talk to him. She shouted back for him to leave her alone or Toussaint would get him. He laughed and asked her how she knew his name. She was annoyed with this young boy and just wanted to get to Haiti, but he kept getting in her way. She finally asked him his name, which was TOUSSAINT JONES. She said she was going to see TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE in Haiti, and emphasized that her Toussaint does not "take no stuff from white folks."
Jones looked at the lady in brown and said that he did not "take no stuff from white folks" either. He invited her to come to the docks with him and watch the boats. She realized that this might mean that Toussaint L'Ouverture would be leaving her, but now she had Toussaint Jones, who wasn't that different from his namesake. She muses that there was no telling what "all spirits we cd move down by the river."
"abortion cycle #1" invokes a woman's experience during an abortion - she is scared, embarrassed, hurting, and ashamed. More so, she is completely alone. She does not mention the father of her child and calls her fetus "this dyin danglin tween my legs." She is so ashamed of this unwanted pregnancy that she could not even bring a friend with her for comfort. Critic Neal A. Lester comments that the poem "is an indictment of a society of men and women that ostracizes women who celebrate their sexuality freely, a society that makes a woman's biology her destiny of shame." Shange eschews the social taboo of abortion and describes it at a visceral level; which is separate from the political implications.
Meanwhile, "Sechita" is a poem about race, beauty, and identity. There is no clear indication of the time it is set (Shange opens it with "once there were" ), but it is set somewhere in the post-Civil War period, deep in the Jim Crow South (Natchez, MS). The "Creole Carnival" is a Haitian celebration similar to present-day Mardi Gras. It is filled with lights, music, dancing, laughter, which often give way to fights. Sechita is getting ready to perform after a fixed fight between two wrestlers. Shange crafts this showgirl as a goddess. She is an archetype of feminine power and splendor, like Nefertiti, except God has been wiping his feet on Sechita's face. Shange therefore finds the glory within the grit.
However, Sechita is also a victim, her glory cheapened by her status as an entertainer for a drunk, rowdy crowd after a wrestling match. In her introduction to the second publication of the play, Shange calls Sechita "the goddess of filth." In the poem itself, Shange writes, "sechita / had learned to make allowances for the distortions / but the heavy dust of the delta/ left a tinge of grit n / darkness/ on every one of her dresses/ on her arms & her / shoulders" (38). This dirt signifies the darkness and the filth of her history of accumulated abuse and subjugation. Her only freedom from her tainted exterior comes at the end of the poem when she is "catchin stars tween her toes," an allusion to her ascension to Heaven (literally and/or figuratively).
"toussaint" shares more in common thematically with "graduation nite," because it describes a young woman's dreams and ends on a hopeful, sweet note. The lady in brown has a moment of enlightenment when she discovers a book about Toussaint L'Ouverture, the slave who incited a slave rebellion in the colony of Saint Domingo on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti) in 1791. She marvels at how strong Toussaint L'Ouverture was and admires the fact that refused to accept subjugation from white people (in his case, the French colonists).
Meanwhile, this inspires the lady in brown, who bemoans the fact that "1955 was not a good year for lil blk girls" (41). In fact, 1955 was the year following the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which prohibited schools from being segregated by race. In subsequent years, the ruling met with great resistance in the South, which made life very difficult for black students in newly integrated schools. The lady in brown was no exception, and she reveals her desire to escape her "integrated" life and escape to Haiti, where Toussaint L'Ouverture was able to lead a successful rebellion against his white oppressors.
In a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Louis, the lady in brown imagines walking with Toussaint L'Ouverture and stowing away on a boat to Port-Au-Prince. She happens to meet a (real) boy whose name is also Toussaint (Jones). This boy is in the USA and speaks English, and proclaims that he does not take any "stuff from white folk" either. The story ends on a hopeful note, indicating that the spirit of Toussaint is alive in the African American population.
This poem also contains the slightest hint of lady in brown's early sexual awakening, although, as she is only eight, its depiction is subtle and not prurient. Over the course of the poem, the young girl replaces her "secret lover" (41), the late historical figure Toussaint L'Ouverture, with a flesh-and-blood boy who intrigues her and fills her with hope that there was "no tellin what all spirits we cd move / down by the river" (44).