Michelle Cameron


Listening to the poet with the severed leg,
the poet who lost a brother to AIDS,
the poet with the mastectomy last month,
I wondered what body part
I'd give up, a sacrifice, to my art.

The breasts too easy to surrender:
massive, with their lumpy memories,
hunkering behind a towel in the locker room,
curling my toes in pain
during nursing, and the mastitis --
oh, don't make me remember
the mastitis -- and then,
recalling how my grandmother
had breasts that fell
like two limp sausages
to her waist, and she would pick them up
and bend them double,
stuff them in the casing of her ample brasserie
thick padded beige cotton, boned for support --
no, the breasts would be sacrificed
to vanity, not art.

And not the hair, which shot out
first gray wires in late teens,
left untrimmed, untamed,
a concession to the man
who loves the idea, the notion,
of long hair, the Godiva in his mind --
mine's frayed, unpredictable,
makes me think of cousin Ruti
a halo about her head,
the grizzled, frazzled look,
deer in the headlights
surprised by the photographer
stalking, around the corner --
no, if I had my way,
I'd chop it back and even shave the pate.

And then all the body parts
enhanced by poundage --
the curving doubling of the chin,
the jellied arms, the thighs wearing thin
the inseams of my tailored pants,
the stomach that curves into my
c-section scar, which I pat,
remembering pregnancy
when I dreamt I'd go unpunished
for those candy bars that lodge,
contented, in my flesh --
sure, I'd gather up my weight
and put it on the butcher's scale
in an instant, let them salt it down,
serve it koshered, not a qualm.

But then, perhaps, the sacrifice
is buried in what I keep,
in what I don't prune back -- place
the inner vision of that drop dead
beauty on the altar,
let it burn, an offering up
of all those years backing
from the mirror, hiding
under layers, shoving the kids in front
when cameras threaten --

yes, let me relinquish the Audrey
gamin, the Ingrid cheekbones,
the Flockhart anorexia tendencies,
hand them over, an offering
to my art, let me stand, stripped
naked, before the crowd, before
the mirror, before my inner eye.

Date of Birth: June 19, 1958
Location: Chatham, New Jersey
Email: mcameron@gti.net
Website: http://www.noretreat.org/mec/
Publications: Samsara Quarterly, Eclectica, Lips, The Paterson Literary Review, The Physik Garden, The Dakota House Journal, AtomicPetals, The Paumanok Review, Riding the Meridian, Stirring V3:E7, V3:E8

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