Tough As Nails

Selected Poems by Lisa DeSiro

Image by  Ruben Hutabarat

Tough as Nails



She trimmed mine with those tiny slim curved silver scissors

until I got old enough to manage the clippers myself


         She filed hers with one of those emery boards kept in

         her purse or a drawer or the pen & pencil cup by the phone


Mine needed to be kept short for playing piano

(my first teacher’s first lesson: no clicks on the keys)


         Hers would break while gardening or cleaning

         (she cursed each time it happened: same finger again)


Neither of us bit

ours nor hit our


thumbs while



I never put polish on mine, unlike my peers,

preferring them plain


         She usually painted hers, red and pink hues,

         like the roses she grew


I used mine to scratch at acne scabs

and she’d scold Don’t pick!


         She used hers to scratch her balding scalp

         and I’d wonder Does it hurt?





Annual Mammogram



I stand facing the tall machine. The woman positions me.

I raise one arm, grip the handle bar, tilt my neck.

She moves the plate of glass to where my bra strap would be,


then she scoops and arranges my flesh against the cool, sleek

slab. Next, she lowers an identical pane into place.

She asks me how I’m doing; says Don’t worry, we’ll be quick.


I follow her instructions: take a breath, hold it. Pressed

between the two thick panels, sandwiched

like a pink patty, squeezed flat, my poor breast


suffers just a few seconds. I try not to squirm or twitch

while the woman steps away, pushes buttons. Noise

of mechanical scanning, followed by a beep. The pinched


trapped sensation dissipates when the glass plates release

automatically, mercifully. The feeling of relief

is like when I removed those too-tight high heels (Please


let this be over!) worn at my high-school friend’s not-brief

wedding ceremony and reception. Her father joked

that my satin strapless bridesmaid dress would fall off


since Nothing’s there to hold it up — teasing words spoken

somewhat less in malice than taunts from classmates:

a boy in sixth grade (big for his age, the token


bully) who called me “Great Plains”; or the popular girl I hated

in seventh grade because she said I had “chocolate chips”

(she “developed” early). My mother soothed: Just wait,


you’ll grow. But my hopes amounted to little. I’m gripped

on my other side now, as the whole procedure repeats.

Then it’s over, a matter of minutes. The nice woman chirps


You’re all set! Have a good day! I can tell she means to be sweet.

Results arrive by mail: no evidence of cancer. I thank

my lucky stars, genetics, God — whatever grace decides I get


another year of one less worry, one less thing to fear. I think

about my mother’s lopsided chest, after her mastectomy.

The healed skin above her heart like a page erased, made blank.







Nerve-wracking, the racket of these three

blue jays perched in the tree near my kitchen window.

They squawk and screech, squawk and screech,


each at a different pitch. I know no reason

for such raucousness. November isn’t

the season to court or nest. Persistent trio


yawping a dissonant triad, ugly. But lifting off

they sway the slender tree, dazzle bright

blue-white across the autumn drab. One by one,


we took the plastic sack like it was bird seed,

spilled its contents on the ground. Piles of dust. Bits of bone.

Her body. Not her body. Proud that my “first word”


was a sentence — a question, spoken looking out

the kitchen window when I saw some feather-flash

at the feeder — she transcribed in my baby book:


What that is?



Lisa DeSiro

Lisa DeSiro is the author of Labor (Nixes Mate Books, forthcoming) and Grief Dreams (White Knuckle Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in two anthologies and many journals, and have been set to music by several composers. Lisa works for a non-profit organization and is an assistant editor for Indolent Books. Read more at