One thing they don't tell you about Sloan-Kettering
is how beautiful the workers are, shepherdesses, sirens,
brawny football players, ready to lift the heaviest bodies. One,
rosy as a mountain child moves like the most even glare of light,
never turns away till you have risen to follow her.
She holds your paper file near her breasts, but not too tight.
Walls are paved with photographs, scenes of mountains, forests
carved by light. The chemotherapy suite is a skylight, a bubble.
You pass posters for support groups presented on easels like paintings
in progress. There are private rooms for each patient with chairs
and blankets and a straight-backed chair for a companion if you have one,
and a little television with its snake arm, riveted into the wall.
In the center of all these private rooms are gatherings of high stalked flowers,
magenta, purple, amber, bursting higher than churches, in golden vases
everywhere, and the carpet is gold, too, so padded you can hear
no sound of walking. There are so many workers here,
and your surgeon, Alexandra, is the most beautiful worker of all.
Her office where you wait is the color of cool green and mountain cream.
A computer pulses out deep blue insignias, next to it
is a magazine, half the cover missing, torn, or half-eaten,
waiting for you to touch it in the same place as the person before you.
You don't and this decision, its stillness, its inability to reverse is profound
and stagnant. Outside, in the hallway other doctors stand leaning, writing
with the concentration of animals eating food, whose only purpose
is to become blind to everything but their own sustenance.
And she is the Sun. She is beautiful when she enters, says How
are you? You lean on her are. She opens your robe like the earth,
and you say, I used to have beautiful breasts, and she says, You still
do, and she cups your breasts. This is her special way. She cups
each one, then combs down, down with her fingers as if down
the side of a mountain she is scaling tenderly so as not to fall
once. She half-closes your garment and you close the rest.
You watch her fingers leave your robe how they arc in the air
to papers on her desk, and you realize that at various times
in the past five years you have thought of her fingers, their short
nails, and how she called you and said into the mouth of her phone,
really as an afterthought, that in the site of the malignancy we found
a little milk. A little she said, like the purr of a cat, and you could see
her fingers, her surgeons fingers holding her own children's milk bottles,
and then as you will always, you will want to be like her, to save lives
during the day, then go home, feed your children at night.
You remember the way out on the soundless carpet.
Your husband is with you, murmurs, your husband,
the lobby, just as you remember, in subtle shades, tones of green and gold.
--2007 Pushcart Prize Winner