poetry by Rebecca Roth

Tear me open now and you will find two miniscule metal clips buried in my breast. 
Tiny bullets frozen in time, permanently gone astray. The minutest of cairns 
landmarking dense tissue to scan over, the next search party, ready to recover or rescue. 

The memory of a survivor is strong, the ambivalence of guilt cut sharp against grief. I 
remember the rabbi demonstrating at the graveside to turn the shovel over, then to lift 
the dirt this way, until, wobbly and unnatural, the shovel tipped, dirt raining down 
until the weight of gravity brought the empty blade swiftly down into the ground.

Push me down in the now; the pressure on my chest to stop the bleeding. The nurses 
circle. They lift my arms up over my head, a bow and arrow poised at attention, as if I 
could be readied to surrender or, just as easily, to fly again. The nurses wrap gauzy 
butterflies in place under lengthy bandages, compressing this troublesome breast.

Family history is so heavy to carry. I tried to feed my family my body’s own milk. I 
thought draining my grief would save me, and I heard what I wanted, that it was good 
for my babies too. My whole life spent achy and sore from hips held tight, shoulders 
slouched, body grounded. Self-conscious shuffling to hide the fighting spirit; the 
irony, to think of hiding in the hills, to slough off adversity for my children to inherit. 

Spare elegy and post mortem, I tell you I am eerily aware of how I was displayed flat 
on the table under fluorescent lights. Like a fried egg easy over, a melting target 
within a taped-off sterile square; as if the nurse herself saw Dali’s surreal timepiece, 
the coordinates announced dispassionately: 3 o’clock. 8 o’clock.

At every turn, I was asked if I wanted to go further, as if I had dared to go parking in a 
dark car in the darkest corner of the lot with one flickering light. As if I knew the 
difference between a dark spot and a nodule, a complex cyst and a lesion, a stalactite 
from a kettle bottom. As if I knew trouble. Their tools pressed into my flesh. Maybe
his is why I find it so hard to know my own desires, my own worth. How someone 
could put their faith and their lives in the wings of a canary and not lose their way, I 
don’t know.

I promised you the truth, the coin of the realm. The only thing I wanted more 
desperately than to jump this track was to keep you from it. I know how it is to want 
the full story. When an agnostic tells you to pray, you pray for the good earth.

Rebecca Roth was born in West Virginia, where she makes her home with her family in Charleston. Her work has appeared in Vandalia, The Pikeville Review, and Dear Abby. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from West Virginia Wesleyan College and received a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2022. Rebecca has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit and government sectors; currently, she is at work on her first novel.