The radiation room turns dark at the touch of a switch. Attendants scurry out. Above, a laser shines as if cancer isn't too much to ask-God's eye-His cold judgmental love, keeping track of us. The light unspools in a thin ribbon of neon-green across hospital gown and necklace pendant, jewel- eyed Saint Anthony, patron saint of loss. I stretch supine in the radiation machine, arms above my head like a porn star- awaiting my Romeo in the next scene. Red lights warn "Beam On" and their buzzing jars the sound track, Paul Simon singing... "Don't cry, baby, don't cry, don't cry..."
Why not-cry? What thing turned this breast- this teat for drowsy babies, this picnic spot for love- into an incubator hatching cancer cells?
Electromagnetic fields- telephone wires, cell phones, the microwave? Birth control pills- those firing squads of man-made hormones going round and round in plastic disks that snap open like compacts? Maybe I didn't breast-feed the babies long enough?
Acid rain etches its residue on rock. The polar ice cap is melting- Wicked Witch vanishes POOF under her pointy cap screeching, Melting, melting- And the deluvian torrent of water will carry all the pesticides, all the mercury, all the oil spills down to us.
The room lights up; today's ordeal completed. The nurse directs me back to the waiting room: "A doctor will see you soon. Please be seated." I hide in a cubicle and administer cream gingerly to my chafed and reddened breast. Grease stains my bra. In the waiting room, I view a huge fish tank. A woman says, "You're blessed not to have chemo." I nod and answer, "True." A girl interjects, "The important thing is hope." She's had cancer for years; that's the story she tells of labs, examinations, internal scopes. In her purse, she caresses her stuffed animals. And I-exhausted, burned, tamoxifen-dosed- must advise myself, be composed.
Medb Mahony wanted to be a writer when she was young but gave up that dream to do practical things. Since her bout with breast cancer and now that she is middle-aged, she has refocused on the impractical. Her poems have been published in "Aspect" and "The Lyric." She also co-authored an article for the Journal of Legal Education.