Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Story About the Body

I read this poem freshman year of college in a required course called Writing the Essay. The course was somehow supposed to prepare us for our future writing assignments I believe, but in fact did nothing of the sort. They were personal essays that had to integrate art and literature and mine were lost in some computer crash or other. I remember only one of the two we wrote. It was about my great-grandmother, who died while I was in the process of writing it.

I'm not sure how much I benefitted from the writing itself, but I had the great fortune to have a teacher who went outside the general reading for the course and introduced us to some wonderful poems. This was one of them.

The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused or considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, "I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you I have had a double mastectomy," and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts." the radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity--like music--withered, very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I could." He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl--she must have swept them from the corners of her studio--was full of dead bees.
--Robert Haas

I had a bit of trouble finding it because I somehow got it in my head that it was by Robert Bly, when in fact it's by Robert Hass. I don't know why I didn't figure this out earlier since it's nothing like any Bly poem I've ever read. Anyway, I eventually found it by googling poem and the phrase I have had a double mastectomy which is the only exact quote I could remember. It seems like a rather prosaic way to find a piece of writing as wonderful as that.

No comments: