Jul. 30, 2004

Snapshot of a Lump

by Kelli Russell Agodon

FRIDAY, 30 JULY, 2004
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Poem: "Snapshot of a Lump," by Kelli Russell Agodon, from Small Knots. © Cherry Grove Collections. Reprinted with permission.

Snapshot of a Lump

I imagine Nice and topless beaches,
women smoking and reading novels in the sun.
I pretend I am comfortable undressing
in front of men who go home to their wives,
in front of women who have seen
twenty pairs of breasts today,
in front of silent ghosts who walked
through these same doors before me,
who hoped doctors would find it soon enough,
that surgery, pills and chemo could save them.

Today, they target my lump
with a small round sticker, a metal capsule
embedded beneath clear plastic.
I am asked to wash off my deodorafnt,
wrap a lead apron around my waist,
pose for the nurse, for the white walls—
one arm resting on the mammogram machine,
that "come hither" look in my eyes.
This is my first time being photographed topless.
I tell the nurse, Will I be the centerfold
or just another playmate?

My breast is pressed flat—a torpedo,
a pyramid, a triangle, a rocket on this altar;
this can't be good for anyone.
Finally, the nurse, winded
from fumbling, smiles,
says, "Don't breathe or move."
A flash and my breast is free,
but only for a moment.

In the waiting room, I sit between magazines,
an article on Venice,
health charts, people in white.
I pretend I am comfortable watching
other women escorted off to a side room,
where results are given with condolences.

I imagine leaving here
     with negative results and returned lives.
I imagine future trips to France,
     to novels I will write and days spent
beneath a blue and white sun umbrella,
waves washing against the shore like promises.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Henry Ford, born on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan (1863). In 1903, he started the Ford Motor Co., which became enormously successful. Ford is the father of the Model T. It sold for $850 at first, which would be about $16,500 today. The prices eventually dipped lower than $280, which is about $3,000 today. By 1925, he was producing almost 2 million a year and everybody had to have one. It's the birthday of economist Thorstein Veblen, (1857). He's best known for his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), in which he introduced the concept of "conspicuous consumption." It's the birthday of Emily Bronte, born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England (1818). She's the author of Wuthering Heights (1848), a story of love and tragedy set in the moors of Yorkshire. She was the fifth of six talented Bronte children born to parents who seemed to have had no literary interest themselves. Their mother died when Emily was two, and the children were pretty much left to their own devices. Their father was aloof and treated his children as intellectual equals. Other than that, he mostly ignored them. The Bronte children had only themselves for playmates. Their house was bounded on two sides by the village graveyard. They became best friends with each other. All the Bronte children were avid readers and storytellers. They made up a mythical land called Gondal, and Emily made it the subject of many of her poems. She was shy and reclusive and whenever she left home she got homesick. She joined her three older sisters at a school for clergymen's children when she was six. In 1845, Charlotte found out that Emily had been writing poetry. Charlotte had also been secretly writing verse, and so had Anne. They published their joint work the next year. Instead of using their real names, they called it Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. That book sold only two copies, but it paved the way for Charlotte's Jane Eyre (1846) and Emily's Wuthering Heights (1847) and Anne's Agnes Grey (1847). Jane Eyre was an instant success, but Emily's book didn't get much attention until after she fell ill and died the next year, at age thirty. Charlotte wrote a preface for it explaining why it was better than her own Jane Eyre, and it became a classic.

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