Poem with ghosts and breasts and whales and milk

“…the search for lightness [is] a reaction to the weight of living. ~ Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

In these parts there’s a famous hotel called The Cavalier,
where it’s said the ghosts of old soldiers walk the halls
at night, and the piano in the ballroom croons jazz
tunes to itself. From any of the rooms you can hear
the sound of the ocean. One summer on the beach there,
I had what’s called a wardrobe malfunction in the upper
part of my strapless swimsuit. We’ve all heard the story
about how the bra was supposedly first designed
by an engineer
, which was synonymous for man;
which is almost like saying someone thought an egg works
the same way as an airplane. The earliest corsets were made
of whalebone— Who knew that the ribcage of a grey-
blue whale capable of staying underwater for up to two
hours, could be used to take just about all the breath
out of young women who fainted a lot from being laced up
in those stays? At a cafe one time, I overheard
a teenage girl tell her mother she hated wearing bras.
She said, I am going to take it off right here, right
now, and slip it out from under my sweater!

Those underwires do hurt like crazy— couldn’t we
have a garment of support made of something supple
and sweet, like the skin that forms on the surface
of milk when heated? I can’t count how many times
I’ve read in the news about animals whose throats
have been caught in those rubber rings that go around
the necks of six-packs of soda or beer. I’m rarely
in the wine section of the grocery, though you
might find me in front of the bin of “exotic” fruit,
mourning the prickly pear or cherimoya turning brown
and soft, one part of me also curious, wondering
if I should buy it for FOMO. I can think of any
number of books in which a fruit has been compared
to a woman and her parts. Actually, rather than a skin
of milk, I’d love to have a tunic made of light.
What would that look like, apart from the obvious?
I’d never want to hang it up on the handle of an unused
exercise bike or on the antlered coat rack we inherited
from an uncle who liked to hunt. Doesn’t a cupful of warm
milk equate to certain ideas of childhood, a time
when the body was smooth and without extra hair and bumps?
I can’t stop putting milk now into this poem, though I’ve
always been lactose intolerant. I mean, how is it possible
my breasts have produced milk, regardless? When I
was breastfeeding each of my four daughters in turn,
I craved mussels, clams, and gingery chicken broth.
Did Eve have cravings in pregnancy? Then did she crave
chocolate and jalapeño chips and beer in menopause?
Go get some chocolate now, my brain tells me;
not the milk kind, but the darkest. The kind
that leaves a satisfying stain on your hands,
your teeth, the cuffs of your good white shirt.
Or that blood stew your elders laughingly called
chocolate meat, spooned on a bed of hot white rice.

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