Ellen Bass – Mammogram Callback with Ultrasound


So this is what I’m here for, to see inside
the mute weight of my right breast, heavy handful
of treasure I longed for as a girl, crying
behind the curtain in the Guerlain sisters’ corset shop.
Those tender spinsters could hardly bear
my tears, as they adjusted the straps
on a padded lace bra. I had to wait another year
before my breasts swelled like wind-filled sails
and many were the explorers carried away,
searching for perfumes and spices,
the nerve-laden nipples singing through the wires.
But never has there been a joy like this
as I lie in the pale green cool of radiology.
The lineage of death has swerved around me.
More happy love! More happy, happy love!
As the wand of the ultrasound glides over my flesh,
revealed is a river of light, a bright
undulant tangle of lobules and milk ducts,
harmless and radiant against the black fat.
I could be looking up at the night sky,
this wispy band of brilliance
a shining spur of the Milky Way galaxy,
and I, in my infinitesimal life, will,
at least for tonight, keep these lovely atoms
before I must return them to the stars.

From Indigo, Copper Canyon Press, 2020

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Ellen Bass
Ellen Bass has published several award-winning books of poetry, including “Like a Beggar, The Human Line”, and “Mules of Love”. Her poems have frequently appeared in “The New Yorker”, “The American Poetry Review”, and many other journals. She coedited the groundbreaking anthology of women’s poetry “No More Masks!”, and her nonfiction includes the best-selling “The Courage to Heal”. Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, three Pushcart prizes, and the Lambda Literary Award. A chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University.