Stone Telling

[HOME]      [ISSUE]      [ARCHIVES]      [ABOUT]      [GUIDELINES]     [BLOG]


by Mary Alexandra Agner

Today I took off my breasts
for the first time, the only time,
alone in a hospital room
too embarrassed to look
at the directions the nurse had left.
No more woman, never mother,
no mere anything, anomaly.
Outside this building: crowds
and signs and jeers and hate.
Soon some slang to rob me---
of what? My sexuality
is not defined by lumps of fat.
Know me well enough to know
and I will make you moan with me.
I have made form fit function.

Formless, what can my function be?
I stepped across the line
dividing me from every living thing
when I divided self in three.
Even the aliens, in UFOs, make babies.
As though I'm outside time,
no laugh track, no loop back
for my DNA, my balance gone
as I lean forward for my shirt:
I feel the holes.
Swallow, swallow nausea, pride,
the tannin memory this was my choice.
Empty clinic, clock tick,
time enough for all the thousand
mistakes through which I make me me.

Mistakes never unmade me.
Even in regret, pushed through,
breasts first (since ten),
now nothing first, my knees perhaps
my nose, no longer top-heavy, tipped.
A shirt has never lain so flat.
Fear keeps it still.
More than twenty years of eyes
on chest---never one way to stop them
staring---should have pinned pinstripe
and lace in place, immovable.
Just craters now, echo by echo
changing my responsibilities:
self over generations, selfishness
that generates. A contradiction.

I generate so many contradictions:
stark naked even clothed,
armor of skin too sensitive to touch.
New body, same old me,
but now displayed for everyone
to see what I have always been:
alone, an end. Unreal.
Space is the risk of flesh
colliding, crowd recoiling,
giving hate so many names:
soulless, slut, witch, bitch,
insisting on my sex the less it shows.
Their voices shove and pull,
word-war un-verbing woman,
conjugating human into change.

Still human? Have I changed
so much cars honk and people slink away?
I work, I walk,
same route, same old routine,
now lonelier. Inside out
my lover doesn't recognize me,
leaves no note, nothing of note
except my broken heart---
accept my broken heart?---
too near the surface. Circus freak
in an everyday big top, big-top-less:
titillate the men,
comfort the women by comparison.
No role model for tertiary.
Thesis. Antithesis. Epiphany.

This is. This isn't my epiphany,
that takes another 14 lines---
or lives---at least. I wish.
This is no fairy tale
of tinted glass and Russian dolls
although my dream came true.
I made myself a refuge and example.
Every un-mother in a mother's body
hears this call. Tradition
puts its nails to chalkboard.
Out-sing the screech:
my body is my body is my body,
when I was born, first bled
and bled again, even the day
I took off my breasts.

Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. She is the author of The Doors of the Body (Mayapple Press 2009) and The Scientific Method (Parallel Press 2011). She's currently at work on a historical fiction novel-in-verse about the woman who defeated Cyrus the Great of Persia as well as a lyric manuscript consisting of one poem per Shakespearean play. All her life she’s observed the universe and written about it.