The Routine After Forty

Because my mother doesn’t ask questions,
not the way I would, grilling the oncologist
until she ripped a corner off the examining-table paper
and drew it out, I don’t really understand
what it means to have the markers for cancer.
But later in the week, the technician
giving me a mammogram is surprisingly clear
when I ask her, and reassuring. Everyone’s body
produces cancer cells all the time,
she tells me. She’s blond and ample,
looks like someone who could fix
a leaky sink, then make a pie
to take to a party. But we slough off
the irregular cells, catching early
whatever bad is pitched our way.
Listening to her, I love my body,
its diligence, the work I know nothing about.
Markers in the blood show the body no longer able
to do this. I’ve shed my paper jacket,
the one handed to me so I would feel less naked
as my breasts lay on the glass plate
like fish on ice. When the jacket slipped,
I let it fall, so now I’m standing here
topless with a little sticker like a pasty
on each nipple, a reference point for the radiologist.
The technician and I have passed the formality
of modesty. Bad things bombard us daily
but for years we are stronger than what will kill us.
You can get dressed now
she tells me, but what I want
is to put my head in her lap,
have her stroke my hair while I tell her
how much I will miss my mother
when she is gone.
The markers of grief,
because my body will accommodate
the vast loneliness of my life without my mother.
My head in the technician’s lap,
her fingers lacing my hair,
tell me again about how hard the body tries,
how most of the time it wins.

Look at anything long enough to love it.