Turning Pain Into Beauty … a triumph of tattoo and poem over mastectomy

c Jamie Dedes

My mom had her first mastectomy in 1949 when she was pregnant with me.  Things were different then. Mom and her contemporaries had no support after mastectomy. They had the surgery, were sent to get fitted for prostheses … and that was that. There were no hospital or clinic classes in art and poetry for healing. There were no support groups, no talk therapy. Perhaps worst of all, there was no privacy about medical records. My mother actually turned down a promising job opportunity because the firm’s board members wanted to review her medical records before hire.

Things have improved since Mom’s day,thank goodness. Privacy and rights are better protected. There’s patient support available before, during and after mastectomy. There are more options after recovery then chosing between having or not having prostheses. I’m artsy enough myself, I guess, that I love – and am touched – that some women choose to cover their scars with gorgeous, colorful and creative designs like the one below, which triggered this post. Allegedly Facebook keeps taking this photograph down, seeing it as offensive. Who knows? Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. I can’t image why they would. This is a brave and beautiful thing. There’s nothing obscene about it.

Tattoos over breast-surgery scars started – as far as I know – with a poet and writer, Deena Metzger:

c photo by Hella Hammid

c photo by Hella Hammid

Deena (b. 1936), the proud Amazon. This photograph of her is iconic and became – with the addition of the verse below – “The Poster,” which was designed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,
but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.
Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.
I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.
On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

© Deena Metzger

If The Poster had come out when my mother was alive, I’d have bought it and had it framed for her.


Deena Metzger is a American writer and poet, essayist and screenwriter, an advocate and counselor. Her book Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner World (Harper One, 1992), is ideally suited for those of us who see writing as a spiritual practice. Her website is HERE.

On Friday, I posted a quotation from Deena’s essay, The Language and Literature of Restorationon The BeZine 100TPC Facebook discussion page.  I think the quotation (below) is relevant to our concerns for our earthly environment, which is the focus of The BeZine’s 100TPC effort for 2016.  Deena is holding us – poets and writers – accountable for our part in what comes next, extinction or survival.

“Extinction stalks us. Not an act of God, but a consequence of how we have chosen to live our lives. Such choices are handed to us by language and literature. Literature that is reduced to media, obsessed with violence, conflict, sensationalism, nationalism and speciesism. We are each responsible – we participate – no exceptions. The antidote for extinction is restoration. Languages and literatures that lead toward restoration are essential. So we have to try ….” MORE

Note: The BeZine is a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines100TPC is 100,000 Poets for Change.  Link HERE for information about this global peace initiative started by American poets, Michael Rothernberg and Terri Carrion.

© 2016, words and mother/daughter photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; © Deena’s photograph and poem Deena Metzger.


16 Comments on “Turning Pain Into Beauty … a triumph of tattoo and poem over mastectomy

  1. life is a test’ bearing with the harshness requires profound courage patience and acceptance, thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Musings: Scars, Fragrances, and Memory | Dreaming the World

  3. My mother had a double mastectomy at 50. I can never imagine her getting a tattoo as I can never imagine myself piercing my ears. My father’s voice rings out about “mutilation of the body for purposes of vanity; I will not subscribe to it!” My mom’s way of befriending her new “girlish figure” was to forgo the prosthesis entirely, wear a cotton camisole under her blouses and carry on.
    The Restoration piece is very interesting. We are such creatures of habit and become so blissfully unaware of the way that language is shaping our world. I wrote about the language of photography – “taking” pictures, “capturing” images, and “shooting” subjects – with the same surprise one day. The violence and arrogance and dominance that we speak must be damaging. It is definitely something to bring to mindfulness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once my mom retired, she did the same thing. I would too if it were me, but admittedly that might have something to do with my stage of life. I would also have brazened it out with the employer, but I’m a product of my time and she of hers. She had shame. I would have – and do have on her behalf – anger. Re: language and lit ~ I so agree with Deena on this. It’s one reason why I only review books I like and that I think have some moral value … I figure if it’s wrong I may only be giving power to the negativity by writing about it. I’m increasingly dismayed by the graphic violence in the media and think it can only bode ill. But,you and I, we speak to the choir on these things, I’m afraid, which is not to say that we shouldn’t continue our individual and joint efforts. I feel like I’m rambling. It was a difficult night and now time for some coffee. Happy Sunday, dear Priscilla. Be well and at peace.

      Liked by 1 person

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