Thursday, October 22, 2015

Poetry Thursday: A Poem for Breast Cancer Month

My breast cancer blog posts this week have put me in mind of a series of poems I wrote 15-20 years ago, when I used illness of all sorts as metaphor.

I think of the poems I wrote in a time that feels very long ago, poems where I take on the persona of a sick person.  My undergraduate self would have declared that we shouldn't create a black narrator if we were white, that men couldn't tell the stories of women.  My undergraduate self would have hurled accusations of appropriating stories.  Did I do the same thing with the poem below?

I wrote it about 15 years ago, when I was young and didn't really know anyone, except for my mother's cousin, who had suffered breast cancer.  Now I know far too many people who have been afflicted with cancers of all kinds--and many of them seem much too young (in their 40's) to have come down with rare cancers.

Someone once asked me, perhaps with a tinge of anger, if I knew of anyone who had breast cancer.  When I stopped to count, I was amazed.  Some days, it might be easier to count the number of women I know who have had no cancers.  When you add in the women who have had scares that came to nothing, it includes almost every woman I know.

There's probably a poem in that last paragraph--or perhaps a piece of investigative journalism.  But this is my theology blog.

As such, I wondered if the poem below really belongs here with my theology of all sorts.  But I thought that it falls into the tradition of Psalms as lament, and perhaps those angry Psalms. 

This poem first appeared in the journal Lynx Eye.

Radiation Sicknesses

All through adolescence, I longed to be lean.
I tried every diet, existing on a concentration
camp allotment of calories, trying to ignore
my fierce cravings, waking up with covers in my mouth
or sleepwalking to the refrigerator.

Now a skeleton stares back from my mirror,
eyes I’ve only seen in photos of Hiroshima victims.
I have achieved thinness, successfully svelte
beyond my wildest imaginings. I crave
no nourishment, cannot force food on myself.
Radiation treatments and chemo work miracles
my teenage mind could not create.

I spent my younger years dreaming of thinness, dreading
nuclear holocaust. I scanned the horizon for the flash
and mushroom cloud that never came.
I expected to lose my hair and vomit away my adult
life. I just didn’t expect to expose myself intentionally.

Bomb my breast with radiation.
The only thing missing:
the wail of air raid sirens.

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