“The Facts” by Judith Harris

Judith Harris


Whenever my mother got dressed, or undressed,
she would turn her back to me,
arms fumbling behind her to catch the hook,
the loud spank of her nylon straps,
midriff bulge branded in by the ghost of spandex.
When they first removed her breast,
she tried to fill the empty cup with cotton the way
my junior high school friends stuffed falsies
to appear more stacked,
but it didn’t work—she felt—unnatural—
and so they did the reconstruction
by sawing off her other breast.
I never saw them, new or old,
or planted with the silicone jellyfish.
For thirty years, she kept them covered,
even when the nurses lifted her up onto the potty,
or bathed her shingled skin,
but in the darkness of her bedroom,
lit by a nightlight,
I saw her shimmy into
her blue, daffodil nightgown,
quiet as an egg shell,
and then she spun, frank, reborn,
in her wrinkling, baby flesh to meet me
directly with her eyes,
no less than a vision of heaven or hell
taking its secret fire from the stars
too awful, or too beautiful, to be seen.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007


Judith Harris: “I read poetry as a child because poetry books on the library shelf were the skinny ones and identified themselves without my having to go through the Dewey Decimal System. One could open them up and the pages would fan out like petals with white space on the page, that felt entirely blissful. I read Levertov’s The Jacob’s Ladder because I thought it was a children’s book. Her music of the living world entered my heart with a silence that still echoes.”

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