I knew it was something bodies could do, disobey –
a girl a grade above had died that fall
of the cancer I was being tested for in winter,
and one the grade below lay in the hospital with leukemia;
she’d been showing up to ballet with bruises
up and down her legs for months before the diagnosis –
but didn’t know my body could, or that it would,
however benignly. The numbers said it was inevitable:
one in a thousand worked out to one per grade
in that overfilled high school where thrumming masses
bottlenecked hallways passing from Spanish
to biology to gym. I couldn’t know, then,
the case from my class would come the following year,
also in the bone but spreading, hers, to other places.
The x-ray showed my bone looked moth-eaten
where my marrow should have been. The doctor said
I couldn’t dance, or run, or lift a ceramic mug
for fear the bone might break, the break might spread
malignancy if any malignancy existed, they couldn’t know
until they saw it, not even after biopsy, that big cylinder
chamber above the long syringe going in and in.
Instead of ballet class I’d sit for hours every day
practicing piano – scales and etudes
were things I could get fluent in. Improve.
The surgery was quick. I was benign, or, at least, my bone
was. They filled it with synthetic stuff and closed me up.
I stayed in the hospital until the drainage bag
stopped draining, a plastic straw connecting from within
my arm to a little plastic pouch collecting blood
and whatever yellow-y liquid was also coming out.
The only time I cried was when they pulled it out –
I’ve never felt anything stranger
than the extraction of a foreign object from deep inside
my bone – that inhalation, the empty-leaving
sucking tunnel where part of me had been before.
Added: Monday, June 13, 2022 / Used with permission.
Leigh Sugar (she/her) is a Michigan-born, Brooklyn-based chronically ill and disabled artist. She holds an MFA from NYU (where she was a Veteran Writers Fellow), and has taught workshops and ongoing classes at CUNY's Institute for Justice and Opportunity, NYU, Poetry Foundation, Hugo House, Justice Arts Coalition, and various prisons in Michigan. Her first book, FREELAND, was a finalist for the 2021 Alice James Book Award and Semi-finalist for the 2020 Jake Adam York Prize, and she created and edited That’s a Pretty Thing to Call It: Prose and poetry by artists teaching in carceral institutions (New Village Press, 2023). Her own poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY, jubilat, The Journal, Honey Literary, The Margins, and more. Learn more and say hi at her website!