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 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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