Night Before Your Mastectomy

a poem by
MARIANNE PEEL | Teacher + Poet


“Night Before Your Mastectomy” was written for my friend Mimi, reflecting on my thoughts the night before her mastectomy. I spent the evening with her, basically being a good listening ear and sounding board for her thoughts and grief regarding the surgery. I composed this poem that night, attempting to grapple with how I might have responded had I been walking inside my friend’s skin.
EVER since you told me
that cancer was taking your breasts
I have suspended belief in my own breasts
shelved all feeling, all sensation
to a place over there, away from this body
I call mine.
My breasts became non-existent
as I avoided mirrors,
wanting to be one with you in this loss
in this farewell to the piece of myself
that had nourished four daughters
in rocking chairs, church pews, toilet stalls.
And I thought what I might do tonight
if I knew of the surgeons coming toward me tomorrow.  
I would spend time with a mirror,
a long, full-length mirror,
admiring the roundness of my breasts,
touching the softness,
reminding my hands to remember.
I am a touchable painting
not in a frame or an album
but in my own fingertips.
I would notice how my breasts
are only one or two brush strokes
of a Monet impression, water flowers scattered on a pond.
I would remember my nakedness
in a field of lilies
gently blurred
waltzing to wind chimes
with one soft lilac
between my breasts.
Then I would bathe in lavender water
and build castles of fragrant bubbles
on my thighs, my hips, my stomach,
and my breasts.
I would sprinkle warm, lavender water
over and over again on my breasts,
watching the water cry in rivers,
cry in streams,
cry in farewell.


Photograph by Ali Lander-Shindler