Study Guide

Mastectomy

by Alicia Ostriker

Mastectomy eText - eText

Text of the Poem

for Alison Estabrook

I shook your hand before I went.
Your nod was brief, your manner confident,
A ship’s captain, and there I lay, a chart
Of the bay, no reefs, no shoals.
While I admired your boyish freckles, 5
Your soft green cotton gown with the oval
neck,
The drug sent me away, like the unemployed.
I swam and supped with the fish, while you
Cut carefully in, I mean
I assume you were careful. 10
They say it took an hour or so.

I liked your freckled face, your honesty
That first visit, when I said
What’s my odds on this biopsy
And you didn’t mince words, 15
One out of four it’s cancer.
The degree on your wall shrugged slightly.
Your cold window onto Amsterdam
Had seen everything, bums and operas.
A breast surgeon minces something other 20
Than language.
That’s why I picked you to cut me.

Was I succulent? Was I juicy?
Flesh is grass, yet I dreamed you displayed me
In pleated paper like a candied fruit, 25
I thought you sliced me like green honeydew
Or like a pomegranate full of seeds
Tart as Persephone’s, those electric dots
That kept that girl in hell,
Those jelly pips that made her queen of death. 30
Doctor, you knifed, chopped, and divided it
Like a watermelon’s ruby flesh
Flushed a little, serious
About your line of work
Scooped up the risk in the ducts 35
Scooped up the ducts
Dug out the blubber,
Spooned it off and away, nipple and all.
Eliminated the odds, nipped out
Those almost insignificant cells that might 40
Or might not have lain dormant forever.