“Mammary” by Michelle Bitting

Michelle Bitting


Hawks circle fields near the highway
homing in to catch the scent
of animals deep in the high dry grass.
So many wildflowers in bloom,
watery purples and acid yellows,
I’m dizzy in my car
blazing up the California coast:
Santa Barbara, Pismo, Salinas,
nicknamed The salad bowl of the world
with its patchwork plots
of endive and spinach,
the almighty artichoke
in whose honor Norma Jean Baker
was once crowned queen.
So fresh in her red gingham blouse,
remember? Her elation,
her perky, generous D cups
held up to the leafy bulbs
as everyone cheered. If only
it stayed so rosy, the tough layers
unstripped, the heart left intact.
If only you weren’t topless
on a gurney, Rachel,
under the scouring glare
of hospital lights,
your own sweet breasts
offered up to the surgeon’s blade.
A hundred miles north
of where you are right now
I’m a slave to this shifting view,
anything to avoid the thought
of your chest picked clean,
tender globes that fed three mouths,
now poison the body’s crop.
So I’ll imagine birds and flight
as the elliptical sweep of sharpness
cuts the pale sky of your chest,
steel beaks of surgical tools
carving out the flesh cream,
making smoke of tumor meat—say goodbye,
pay my respects
and picture them floating up,
slipping through the ceiling cracks,
two blond angels,
flying out
beyond the moon’s milky scar,
they spread their innocence
over the lustrous scrim of L.A.,
those brave, radiant girls
wave and then they’re gone.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
2009 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

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