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Broadside #39 (Summer 2015 / 15.14)

Keri Withington

My Mother’s Nipples

Carcinogenic sun-rises burn grey and orange
with no one watching. People sleep or shower or fuck.
In hospital dumpsters, marble eyed foxes forage
through medical waste: IV bag, pills, ashy cigarette butt.

Countries attack each other; bodies attack themselves.
Lupus tinged test results read by coffee buzzed interns,
blurred x-rays of tumors like buckshot and shotgun shells.
during exploratory surgery, skin splinters.

She was still in her twenties, the first time, younger than
I am now. The biopsy result read benign, but it
was still a tumor. More followed, found in self exams
or mammograms. The constant fear of metastasis.

GMO foods, test tube babies, my addiction to
aspartame. Counting down until it affects me, too.



Author’s commentary: It amazes me how quickly technology progresses.

When I was a kid, I listened to my beloved record collection on my brown Fisher Price record player. My family had one phone, which was connected by a long cord to the wall, and I made pretend newspapers on my typewriter. My kids don’t understand why anyone would call when you could Facetime. They regularly consult Siri for all types of information and think of CDs and DVDs as outdated technology.

Technology is not just progressing; it is racing. Better technology and continued research have resulted in vaccines, treatments, and cures for a wide variety of medical problems. Diagnoses that used to be death sentences are now routinely managed.

And yet… infant mortality rates are still embarrassingly high in the US, largely because so many people can’t afford adequate healthcare. Cancer rates are rising, probably linked to a food industry that over-uses chemical pesticides, genetic modification, and overly processed ingredients. I am hopeful that by recognizing and exploring these issues, we can address them and create positive change. To me, part of poetry’s importance is that literature enables us to approach difficult subjects from new perspectives. The process of writing this sonnet certainly brought me in unexpected directions. The components of the poem seem like strangers, but they are captured together in moments of convergence between the personal, familial, societal, and environmental implications of health concerns.

Finally, I should say both thank you and sorry to my mom. When my fantastic poetry teacher, Marilyn Kallet, challenged me to write a mother’s nipples poem, the medical route seemed the least awkward. Although I started from a moment of biography, the poem took on its own life beyond either of us. Thanks for the support, inspiration, and mostly great genetics.

Keri Withington lives with her family in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains in TN. She is an English faculty member at Pellissippi State Community College and a graduate student in Women’s Studies at the University of Tennessee. Her poems have appeared in journals including the Miscreant and Blotterature.

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