Our Breast

 

for Alicia Ostriker

 

Coming back to this place in the mountains, after a year--

late August, and throughout the whole monsoon

 

this flat has been locked up:

a musty smell, a dampness, marking

everything. Even the wood seems limp.

 

On top of the bureau so warped

I can't fully open or close the drawers,

there's a rag-tag pile of old papers--electric bills,

chits from the seller of coal, made out

to "U.D. Memsahib." Imagine!

For years, to him, U.D. is who I've been.

 

And this year-old letter from you, friend--

how you're winging it, brewing

your estrogen treatment: a little of this,

a little less of that

(your breasts are heavier;

but so are your waist and hips).

"Maybe you think you're not interested now

in estrogen--but you will be,

believe me!"

 

Believe you? It's no trouble at all

believing you--but will it be like

my ninth-grade revelation:

Thank god I live in modern times!

If I have to have a baby they can knock me out.

 

Yet twenty years later I arrived at it,

and the last thing I wanted was drugs.

 

 

And it doesn't help, does it, after all your labor,

researching research, designing your dosage,

to discover--not even a year since the letter--

a pin-point cancer on the mammogram:

 

then a whirlwind of articles, lots more research,

and you go for mastectomy, because

"it's guaranteed cancer-free."

 

And no more estrogen, ever.

 

Even what's naturally there must be blocked

so no stray cell strikes out on its own,

no renegade center

sliding its spotlight circumference over your body,

no center that might claim the other breast--

 

our breast, sister, our breast in the garbage

like our tossed-out ovary, taken from me

but from you too, no?--the egg

and the milk-spout, our sweet castrations,

going far beyond SNAG--

our "Society for Not Aging Gracefully"

(you the Pres. and me Vice-Pres.)

 

and it all goes double now that I've got

one lonely ovary--though I'll think twice in spades

before being cut again

 

and our breast in your custody

just as vulnerable, the remaining Kennedy

at last declaring for president,

 

asking for it, inciting, despite

the chill, the closed ranks, the damage control,

 

the old boys asking

something, asking why

me, why this, why our breast?

 

Kenyon Review, vol. XVI, no.3, 1994; copyright Judith Kroll

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