The inspiration for both The Burning Breast and Rad-isms was Peggy Tahir's experience with radiation therapy after surgery for breast cancer.

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

your dominance.

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

or endure.

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