This selection, chosen by Guest Leslie Rzeznik, is from This Body I Have Tried to Write by Ja'net Danielo, released by Mayday in 2022.
Content warning for cancer
THAT EPISODE OF 90210 WHEN BRENDA FINDS A LUMP
she, Kelly, & Donna do self-exams of their breasts, follow step-by-step instructions in an issue of some teen magazine on breast cancer awareness. Four years before my mother’s first diagnosis, eight before her second. Four springs & one fall before I sit with her in the waiting room of the oncologist’s office, study an arrangement of tiger lilies—orange, black-specked—my arm touching hers & the thought that the whole room is dandelion spores, might float away if not for tumor-thick blood. Brenda finds a lump 40 minutes before the kids at West Beverly take the SATs, 30 before Andrea removes her glasses in Steve’s bedroom, before they make out on his bed. Twelve years before a poet friend & I sip beer & cheap wine at the Reno Room, talk mutations, our family histories, the possibility of getting tested when, over AC/DC, through the clank & bang of pool balls, my friend yells, I don’t want to know! & I agree. 22 years before I repeat those words to my doctor, before my friend’s second pregnancy, her diagnosis, chemo treatments, bilateral mastectomy. The snatching of her ovaries. 28 years before my fingers brush a sharp-edged stone beneath my skin, before I start doing this math, 29 before my body breaks up with me, sheds itself clean. 27 winters before my cousin’s Stage 3, 31 before metastasis. Brenda finds a lump 30 summers before I meet my husband, 35 before my father slips from this life, 31 Februarys before the James Webb Space Telescope gets its first glimpse of galaxies more than 13.5 billion light-years from Earth, before it calibrates & calibrates out there in space to bring before into focus. Brenda finds a lump & is fine in the end. It’s never spoken of again.
Ja’net Danielo is the author of This Body I Have Tried to Write, winner of the MAYDAY 2022 Poetry Micro Chapbook Editors’ Choice Award, and The Song of Our Disappearing (Paper Nautilus, 2021). A recipient of a Professional Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the Telluride Institute’s Fischer Prize, her poems have appeared in Frontier Poetry, Mid-American Review, GASHER, Radar Poetry, and elsewhere. Originally from Queens, NY, Ja’net teaches at Cerritos College and lives in Long Beach, CA, where she facilitates Word Women, a free virtual poetry workshop for cancer patients and survivors.
Leslie Rzeznik lives in southeast Michigan. She earned her BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and won The Academy of American Poets prize in 2013. Her work has appeared in Alyss, Bone Bouquet, Sling Magazine, Willawaw Journal, and Bear River Review.