“Where Did You Get that Nasty Scar?”: A Memory Map of a Bi, Trans, Cancer Survivor’s Body

Aug 1, 2018 | 2018 Summer - Bodies, Poetry

By Sam R. Schmitt

Sometimes, I run my fingers over the numb, dead flesh
where medical grade steel rendered cyborg machinations.
“…the size of a half-dollar coin.”
“…just beneath the collarbone.”
“…channels vinblastine through the heart.”
If I twist my arm just so, a small concave void appears.
Occasionally, I remind myself of the emptiness there,
contorting my shoulder in the shower, letting droplets accumulate in the miniature skin basin.
That place where heparinized saline pooled and burned beneath the surface,
where alcohol swabs and butterfly needles thickened my skin
into tanned leather.
Now vacant, the only sign of my cancer is a three-inch, pink,
keloid scar
and a lingering sense that my body aged.
I once dared to wear a V-neck in public.
A stranger asked: “Where’d you get that nasty looking scar?”
When I tell my story, they swoon: “You’re so young.”
The stench of pity burns my nostrils.
I sometimes catch myself scrutinizing medical pockmarks in
the mirror.
The shadows of tubes, wires, drips, and incisions penetrate my
A borderlands body, caught in the twilight-sleep of surgery
between dissection and vivisection,
pity and perverse,
gay and straight,
man and woman.
Cupping my ribs, I press my forearms into my chest
lifting away bits of undesired flesh.
The same arms that embraced their lover
whose beauty refracts light like a crystal.
I imagine an impossible malleability.
As if pinching away bits of clay or chipping away excess stone.
In my mind’s eye, I etch a new body with pastels of pinks,
browns, and reds.
Doctors worry that cancer will come back in my breasts
but greed runs the care industry.
A cruel irony.
They won’t pay to make me whole but they’ll pay to rip me
I trace imaginary incisions across my chest.
“Two lines beneath the pectoral muscles…”
“Visible, double-incision scars…”
“Repositioned with a free nipple graft…”
If the scalpel touches my body
I hope it leaves me scars,
rippled and unsightly,
at least
I would be visible.

Sam (they/them) is a doctoral candidate in Multicultural Women and Gender Studies at Texas Woman’s University and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Hamline University. Sam enjoys reading, cats, strong black tea, a nice pair of socks, and thinking about gender, sexuality, bodies, and identity

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