since the only doctors you ever saw
was the quack who signed papers
saying your heart and brain weren’t fit
for school and the oncologist
fifteen years later who said
your insides were poison.
My problem is on the outside.
These scaly flakes that first clustered
on my elbows and knees, a stray
spot on my calf. When they began
to creep over to the soft tissue
of side breast, that’s when
I used my fancy—not quite
health insurance to get
this shit checked out.
Knee caps, whatever. Nobody
really looks at those, but my breasts?
Though they aren’t getting many looks
either, I don’t need another reason
to feel inadequate. Lost weight
and weird nipples are all I can
handle in the boobs dept.
So there I am, in the white room,
sitting on the white paper
covering the exam chair, wearing
the backless white paper gown, bra
unhooked in the back, straps loosely
hanging, and the doctor, he’s running
his finger tips on the side
swell and underneath, gentle. Not
like the hard pressing
of an annual exam. Carefully,
as if the skin might tear. I think
to tell him I have thick skin,
skin that’s healed through
unimaginable scars and cuts,
asphalt burns, fingernail
scratches. Your nails were
never long enough for scratching.
Before I can brag about this
skin’s threshold for abuse, he
says, What about the trunk?
The trunk? I repeat. Yes, he says,
any plaques on the trunk? He points
at my torso, motions for me
to move the gown aside
but I’m stuck on the word
trunk. Like a tree. If I am
a tree, then maybe these scales
are my bark? I picture cutting
open my insides and finding circles.
Will those be my biological
age or the artificial age
enhanced by sorrow?
If you were a tree, you’d look
wise from the outside,
wide and sturdy, like hundreds
of circles might be wrapped
around the heart center. But cut
open they’d find the inside
hollowed out by cancer and like
the tree in my front yard
marked by the city with a yellow
plastic tie, you got hewn.
The day the city came in large
trucks, heavy with machinery, I sat
at the window and cried at every
limb sawed. And even though
it took a few hours, I sat there
and watched every last act
of removal, like a punishment,
as if I deserved to again experience
the destruction of something I
cared about. It was so lovely
the way the leaves in autumn covered
the front yard in what looked
like hundreds of fallen stars.
I would not rake them, but rather
let them carpet the sidewalk
and porch until their light burned
out, and brown and brittle
they drifted away. That was a death
I could understand.
A natural, predictable death,
one I could track, see the inevitable
and make peace.
Like losing you, the loss of the tree
was quick. One day, diagnosis, next
dust from the wood chipper coated
the large hole in the grass
where the stump was pulled out.
Such a big hole. So big I could
sit in it, so I did, and ran my hand
along the edges of root
left connectionless beneath
the grassy surface. I put my tongue
to the limbs’ ashes, the saw dust
sticking to my shirt and pants.
Even in the face of such deadly
involuntary possibility, I like
the idea of being a tree. Then I
wouldn’t have to convince anyone
how thick my skin was, they could
see the bark scales lapped
one over the other. They
would expect and appreciate
this inherent roughness.
Photo by David Olimpio.