885: Dear Past and Future Metastasis,

885: Dear Past and Future Metastasis,

885: Dear Past and Future Metastasis,


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

“You don’t love me like that.” I heard someone say several seats away on a crowded A train. My ears perked. I kept my eyes directed upward at an ad for a bank that stretched across the ceiling of the entire train car. She sounded brash, unapologetically loud, accusatory. But then, I heard the breaking of a smile in her voice. I heard her teasing her companion: “Look at how he’s staring at her. Look at that. You don’t love me like that.” From what I could gather, they were a couple flipping through a fashion magazine together.

I went home and wrote down the phrase “You Don’t Love Me Like That.” I was intrigued by the declaration, at once complaint and challenge — I was fascinated, too, at how the woman stretched out and emphasized the word “that” to perform her critique.

Many of my poems had their starts as bits of public conversation like this. At a table next to me in a café, I once overheard a priest talking to an engaged couple just before their wedding. She said, their lives before each other were like “waiting for eternity to enter your arms.” Yep, wrote that one down; scribbled it on a coffee-stained napkin, and later worked it into a poem.

Moments of accidental eavesdropping are linguistic treasures. And we collect those couplings of words like coins from foreign countries, some measure of unknown, and invaluable worth. Our ears shimmer when we hear fresh utterances that fall outside conventional usage. Listening to everyday speech attunes us to the living.

Today’s fine poem makes delicate use of captured dialogue. The poem reveals our clumsy attempts to render legible who we are. Mostly we pass expected, typical speech between us but, occasionally, we make utterances so clear that they startle even ourselves.

Dear Past and Future Metastasis,
by Chiyuma Elliott

The women sitting next to me in the bakery
are talking about mammograms.
In one story, the radiologist is young
and thus recommends a second test.
In another, the doctor says,
re clinical trials, participation is free,
and no harm will come to you.

Someone says, How are you?
and I say, Vertical. Because lying is wrong,
and the whole truth is tactless.
The time I said, gill net, I meant, look here.
And biopsy meant two hypotheses about rain.

Remember when you called me artless?
It wasn’t a coincidence.
I was trying to describe
that faded Vermeer print:
at first it looked like
any seaside shop front, but the point
was that it wasn’t.

Re fables: to go where you go, and do
what you do, and then be buried there
is a raw deal. Re rawness: a colposcopy
begins with vinegar (a natural indicator).
Or rather, it begins with a video tutorial
about the body in relation to a speculum.

Began, I should say. Used in a sentence:
The tutorial began, and I concluded
I had little patience. The husband
of one of the women in the bakery
began by inventing a mammography machine,
the premise of which was cupping
(not squishing) the breasts.
Then he incorporated.

I keep thinking about yoga,
its cache of promises, like
what’s possible on your mat
is possible in your life.
Alas, you are like that.

“Dear Past and Future Metastasis,” by Chiyuma Elliott from BLUE IN GREEN © 2021 by The University of Chicago. Used by permission of the University of Chicago Press.