I sing them because you could not mourn.

Once they were pink and newly rising
hidden under Catholic school blouses and arms tightly crossed.

In the dark of the driveway, the window filled
with your mother’s sharp silhouette,
you jerked them back from snaking hands.

Young husband on your honeymoon, restless in his suit
sent you back to the room to change, your black dress
all too open to the cool of your skin.

And the obstetrician in `62, who spit breast-feeding
from his mouth like rotten food --
so you let your milk dry up.

My own flat as a field, I watched you step from the bath,
wreathed in steam
their roundness resting on your freckled chest,
nipples the color of coffee with cream.

The night before, did you linger in front of the mirror?
Did you hold them in your hands, memorize their weight?
Or simply welcome the taking away
of this fear in the shape of a crab, spreading as you slept?

Surgery on my birthday is how you said you knew you’d live.
Though the tumor was only in one, they took them both
like you wanted, saving the skin
to sew over saline sacs.

Afterward, wrapped and pale as a sausage,
gripping the button that blessed you with numbness
you joked that now yours would be firmer than mine.
And you would never have to speak of what was lost.

At least they gave you a way to forget.
Not like your mother, left with one half
of one breast, as if this were some kind of solace.

Last week, a doctor reading my chart, a chatty, grandfather-type
asked me had I thought about it --
at some point you’d have to ask yourself,
do I lop them off and save myself the worry?

his hands up in mock decision, smiling.
He says it twice. Lop them off.
No. For all the time allowed

make of this body a monument
to what is taken, to what is given away.

© 1995, Thea Sullivan

Thea Sullivan is completing her MFA in Goddard College’s low-residency program. Her fiction has appeared in Clerestory: A Brown/RISD Journal of the Arts. She lives in San Francisco, where she teaches writing and works on the staff of Poetry USA.