The Constellations of My Body (A Poem)
I flanked myself in pretty, a dressing
since I had none of my own. I was always friends
with the beautiful girls,
the Hawaiian girl, the girl
next door, the girl
who killed herself. They adored me the same
as children do, toddlers demanding and wondering
why I ignored their magnificence while everyone
else fell awe struck at their feet. That’s why
I tanned the cancer into my flesh, chasing
her exotic reaches, shaved my teeth
to needles and cemented on porcelain, filling
my mouth with bathroom fixtures, let doctors
cut me apart like a hunting prize in the filth
of Central America, piece me back together,
all mismatched quilt of muscle and skin.
Even the lawyers say
I shouldn’t have survived.
My silence agreed when strangers called me fat,
when others said I was too ugly to bask in the company
of such beauteous presence, when the old queen
in London laughed, You’ll never be beautiful.
And then there was you.
In the frozen dermatologist’s room, he
taught you to sniff out cancer like a hound,
the rough edges, the swirling browns.
Do you love her constellations? he asked,
and your silence said Yes—the stars of my body,
shooting meteors, the fallout from years
in tanning beds seen for once as gorgeous
in their danger, those remote incandescent
miracles dying bright like fireworks
in the darkest, most secret of my nights.
This is painfully beautiful, honest, and real. I’m sorry for your experiences with cancer, Jessica, and I appreciate how you’ve churned that pain into beautiful art.