“Late Mammogram” by Francesca Bell

Francesca Bell


Standing before the newest-fangled
3D machine, I open my gown to the tech
who leads me by my right breast
into position, cheerful but not particularly
kind, her job requiring a dedicated
sternness, the willingness to grab
what is private and lay it out
on the clear plastic breast tray
and really have a look,
her repeated instructions: Do not
raise your shoulders, keep both
feet on the floor, lean in,
and then the flattening
of the stretched-out tissues
until I just cross the border
into pain and hold myself there,
face jutting out at a weird angle
so as not to be in the way,
while the machine murmurs,
considering me as it travels
its slow arc, and the tech
instructs me periodically to
stop breathing, and it feels familiar
to hold the unnatural pose
and my breath simultaneously,
and I get to thinking about nursing,
how these tired slabs of flesh
once swelled with milk, grew
spherical as planets
with each child’s days revolving
around them, which reminds me
of Mars and the rover sent off
to take pictures of what we
cannot reach, the way this
machine makes an image
of what we cannot see, and I feel
my life slowly draining the life
from me the way we siphon everything
from this planet that once was
teeming as my breasts that day
my milk came in and shot
across the room in two narrow arcs,
and the tech tells me to step away
and breathe freely, then reaches
for my second breast and deposits it,
depleted, on the tray, and that rover failed
to solve any of our problems
though this mammogram may identify
one of mine, and as the tech shoves
and smashes me into place I
remember the tracks the rover left,
solitary in the red dust, as she went forth
and discovered there’s really nothing
there to save us, which puts me in mind
of Barbara’s biopsy and Hanna’s and Lyn’s,
their breasts become biohazard,
and I consider the biological hazards
of the years to come, and then
the machine whirs again, and once,
I read, the rover was stuck
in a dune more than a month,
and wind blew sand onto her batteries
blocking the sun but blew it back off,
and my ribs hurt and my breast,
and even the insects
are on the brink, and this week
they declared the Mars rover dead
which makes me think of the photo
of the emaciated polar bear
on his patchy ice and the one of the girl
slowly starving in Yemen, and I
wonder why I’m trying so hard
to stay alive, and, stop breathing,
says the tech, and I know
my battery is low
and it’s getting dark.

from Poets Respond
February 17, 2019


Francesca Bell: “I read with interest and a strange sadness many articles about Opportunity, the long-lived Mars rover, finally being declared dead. There was something somehow human about the robot, and I found myself thinking of her as I interacted with the 3D x-ray machine that was used to perform my mammogram. I had also been reading during the week of the collapsing insect world and the melting glaciers and the cataclysm that was to come but is actually, in slow motion, already upon us.” (web)

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