Tough As Nails
Selected Poems by Lisa DeSiro
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
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?
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 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 thepoetpianist.com.