687: Ode to a Freckle above My Left Breast

687: Ode to a Freckle above My Left Breast

687: Ode to a Freckle above My Left Breast


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Traveling recently for readings and events has put me back in touch with a few of my favorite people. I don’t know about you, but what moves me about reuniting with folks I haven’t seen for the last few years is how much we’ve all changed. Somehow we just pick up where we left off and laugh and talk about poems and life and yet something has been forever transformed within us. We can feel it.

Two of the friends I’ve seen recently have survived cancer over the last three years. The conversations turn—easily and almost always—to gratitude, to being so grateful that they are healthy, that whatever surgery they needed went well, that they are alive. But after the smiles and watery eyes that reflect how much they’ve been through, it’s time to talk about the nitty gritty.

The nitty gritty is how much they actually went through, how hard it was on their partners or children, and how now their bodies, still beautiful and alive and gleaming, have changed. I’ve never been through something like that and I hesitate to make any comparison to whatever illness or health challenges I’ve had, but what I can do is listen. What is always so remarkable is the little things that they are surprised by. The hair texture that’s changed, the new grays, the way a t-shirt fits, or what they find themselves worrying over…or NOT worrying about.

I’m often grateful that they allow us not only to witness what they’ve been through, but I’m grateful that they are writers and so they allow us to peek into their world by reading their gorgeous poems about their intimate experiences with the body and its recovery. When writers can fully express themselves on the page about the agonies and small successes after an illness, I feel as if I am allowed to see the full spectrum of the human experience. Like someone who simply sits in the room and listens to someone talk about their life without judgment, being a reader, a listener of these important moments feels like a gift.

Today’s poem is just that, a gift. In this intimate poem that deals with the aftermath of a mastectomy, the speaker finds a way to celebrate the smallest win.

Ode to a Freckle above My Left Breast
by Amy Haddad

Resigned to losing all that was mine
I brace myself before the bathroom mirror
in the hospital room. Afraid to look
at the wreckage where
my breast had been, what joy to see
you survived the assault! You perch above
the carnage where you always sat.
Spared from the surgeon’s knife
you are a tiny flag of resistance
claiming territory, protecting a small part
of my chest from razing and reconstruction.
I press my palm over you, feel the heat rise
off my wounds. When the surgeon rounds,
I thrust a bouquet of lavender roses
from the overbed table into her arms,
the only thanks-offering I have for you.

"Ode to a Freckle on My Left Breast" by Amy Haddad, from AN OTHERWISE HEALTHY WOMAN copyright © 2022 Amy Haddad. Used by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.