Examination After the Menopause

With dignity the lady comes to allow the distasteful
the cold steel of the speculum, my speculation
on the space between her legs. She specifies of dryness,
crazy heat with no sense to it, how she bled
at five thirty in the morning, in the kitchen, alone.
How she removed the diamonds from her fingers
to clean up something that was meant to be long over.
She's been a patient for a long time, she boasts,
the National Institutes of Health had their way
with tubes of blood from her arm for years.
In other words, it takes a lot to make her worry,
to bring her to sit here half wrapped on the crinkling paper
of my examining table. I hold her hand to gently lie her down,
and I remember what I can of my grandmother,
recumbent on her sofa with paperbacks
and lemon drops, or pure rocks of simple sugar.
Everyone thought it was good when one day
she set down the cigarettes, a bad taste on her tongue.
Lifetime watcher of weight, she didn't mind
when she stopped wanting to eat, her buttocks starving
flatter and flatter as her spine folded forward, as if praying
to protect her belly, somehow her girth still increasing.
I wasn't there, so I can't remember the ending days
when my mother carried her hourly to the shower
to wash away her shame. When they pulled the tube
from her gut, more from her arms, her bladder.
When she finally told my mother: I am proud of you.
As I child I remember walking in on her, in the guest bathroom:
how the folds of her hanged from shoulder blades,
from the tops of her thighs, impossibly from her collarbones
as she turned to catch me catching her nude.
And so I search this soft old body for the clues.
I honor the lady's complaints. I hunt hard and thorough
for the tenderness, the heat, lumps that don't ache.
I throttle the edges of her thyroid, I crane for the swish
of forced breaths: talk to me, lung sacs, point to danger.
I listen to knocks of her chest signifying "still here, still here."
I percuss over her kidneys and belly, quiet for the dull sound
of a secret mass. I walk my fingers over the breast
in a continuous circle. I spy her cervix, an eye
squinting at me in the strong light. I stalk the normal.
For I know it possible to die of not complaining,
or not loudly.

1997 Jessica Manke (bio)


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