He might be tethered
like an animal, kept from where
he wants to be. A big man,
nearing sixty. He sits and sweats,
though the room is air-conditioned.
His mouth a little open, he is reading
the sign on the door marked Radiology.
He is half up to go after her,
thinking of this life
of hers. The lapses in the love-
his love – which cushions it.
The mutilating surgery and drugs
that sting the organism so it
draws back into itself, counterforce
to the disease. Whatever she has suffered
away from him in other rooms.
I pass easily where he
is not allowed. Like her, I’m chilled
in my thin gown. There is
a fineness, a definiteness
to her face. This beauty
is her own decision. A TV screen
plays a loop of film, women circling
their breasts with their fingertips,
women staring into a mirror.
A foam rubber breast is lying
on a table. Each of us takes it
in turn, like a lump of dough
we must knead smooth. Something solid
stops me. Unyielding, jewel-hard, a pebble
in this mud. Such seeds grow.
I touch the hollow between
my breasts, this emptiness
that is in me is a sign of want.
I look at our still-dressed hands.
Watches, rings. What do they have
to do with us? – madly flashing in the light.
Elaine Terranova was named a Pew Fellow in the Arts for 2006. Her most recent book of poems, NOT TO: New and Selected Poems, was nominated for a Pulitzer. For her first book, The Cult of the Right Hand, she won the 1990 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. She has received an NEA fellowship and two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships for her poetry. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, Prairie Schooner, The American Poetry Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Antioch Review and other magazines and appear in various anthologies.