The Burning Breast by Peggy Tahir
I grew up in the San Diego area. From a young age I was interested in the arts and in poetry. I studied fine arts in high school where I was exposed to drawing, painting, printmaking, fiber arts, ceramics and metal work.
I moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University and received both BA and MA in English: Creative Writing. I’ve had poems published in a variety of literary magazines, including Blue Mesa Review, Lilliput Review, (the poetry) Worm, and Southern Ocean Review. Poems have also appeared in Hybrid Fire: An Anthology (five Bay Area poets, 1983).
A chapbook, Tarot Meditations, was published in 1987. I attended UC Berkeley and received my MLIS in 1986, then started on my career as a medical librarian.
I have been working at UCSF since 1998, and was for many years associated with the group Poets on Parnassus. I have continued writing and working on a variety of different art projects such as quilting, papermaking, lampwork, drawing and jewelry creation.
I painted The Burning Breast while taking an encaustic workshop. The inspiration for both The Burning Breast and Rad-isms was my experience with radiation therapy after surgery for breast cancer.
I am inconsistent in my creative pursuits, but find time for writing almost anywhere, scribbling lines in my Notes app on my iPhone.
In writing, I can be inspired by a line that repeats in my mind, or by an image.
One of those two things are usually a springboard to a poem. I have worked less in the fine arts in the last few years but look forward to working more in the encaustic medium. I plan on setting up a studio where I can continue encaustic painting.
1. My tears
ran into my ears.
I see the aliens who created you
trading in fear.
2. I fell into this land of weeping.
You sweep over me once more
acting as if
you are innocent.
3. I have coated my body in lead
save for the breast
I offer as a sacrifice to grief.
Have your way with her.
4. You are so coy.
Only small beeping noises
but I feel
your light saber slash through flesh.
5. Everyone is talking about you.
They know how you wait for me
how perfectly attentive
6. I love the lead I paint
covering my right lung
beneath the breast
you prey upon.
7. You make me so warm.
Your blue light streams
a focused beam
a fish without ears.
8. Swimming upstream
I breathe and breathe
myself into invisibility
hiding inside an echo.
9. Each day, the same routine.
The bar code scan
my identity numbered
I do not need to bother the lady at the desk.
10. When I am led down the hall
attendants ask for my identity
and bring me into you
aligning me perfectly.
11. Today there were extra x-rays
showing your versatility
I am impressed
far into my bones.
12. Have you noticed my chaperones?
I hope you are not uncomfortable
as they fill the room to the corners
and peer down over you.
13. Of course I would not meet you alone
in my nakedness
while the breast you desire
floats in and out of your dreams.
14. I know there are others
entering your waters
sliding through your web of blinking lights
later looking defeated in the hospital lobby.
15. Friends I run into
say I look So Good.
The doctor assures me
I’m not radioactive.
16. I feel wounded
wonder how much more the slogging
and beatings continue.
Today I tried to forget you.
17. The most important thing
to protect my mind
I wonder if success is not what I think
18. 200 RADs a day until 5000.
I absorb without complaint.
The attendant tells me straight-faced
If we gave it all at once you would die.
19. These numbers of careful calculation
a measured amount of destruction
The body suffers, recovers
suffers, recovers again.
20. Smiling down, I see my cells renewing
filling with light
shining in ordinary orderliness
symmetrical and lyrical.
21. I am left again
alone with you in the cold room.
I must lie very still as your pulses enter me
hands above my head.
22. The attendants like angels
wearing tennis shoes and scrubs
greet me day after day with kindness.
They don’t really want me to ask about you.
23. Mr. Rad makes me mad.
His relentless rays
my burning breast.
I awaken at night drenched in sweat.
24. Kachinas encircle me
dancing the cruel ray-gun dance.
I am told by the doctor the burning
continues after the visitations end.
25. The separation painful
from the mean gift you left me with.
Days later healing begins
dark waves under a lemonpeel moon