Turning Pain Into Beauty … Deena Metzger, a triumph of tattoo and poetry 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 kept 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.
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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.

Appropo our upcoming June issue of The BeZine, I particularly appreciate Deena’s essay, The Language and Literature of Restoration..  I think the quotation (below) is relevant to our concerns for our earthly environment, which is the focus of the June issue.  Deena is holding us – lovers of nature, writers, poets,  and lovers of the arts – 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 Beguines.

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


“THE BeZINE” CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS thebezine.com is open for the upcoming June edition to be published on June 15, deadline June 10. This is an entirely volunteer effort, a mission. We are unable to pay contributors but neither do we charge for submissions or subscriptions. The theme is sustainability. We publish poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, feature articles, art and photography, and music videos and will consider anything that lends itself to online posting. There are no demographic restrictions. We do not publish work that promotes hatred or advocates for violence. All such will be immediately rejected. We’d like to see work that doesn’t just point to problems but that suggests solutions. We are also interested in initiatives happening in your community – no matter where in the world – that might be easily picked up by other communities. Please forward your submissions to bardogroup@gmail.com No odd formatting. Submit work in the body of your email along with a BRIEF bio. Work submitted via Facebook or message will not be considered for publication. We encourage you to submit work in your first language, but it must be accompanied by translation into English.

– Jamie Dedes 

THE RED DRESS by Myra Schneider … a poetry reading

Video posted to YouTube by SpokenVerse.

My first reaction is: I want it,
can’t wait to squeeze into
a scarlet sheath that promises
breasts round as russet apples,
a waist pinched to a pencil,
hips that know the whole dictionary
of swaying, can’t wait
to saunter down an August street
with every eye upon me.

But the moment I’m zipped in
I can’t breathe and the fabric
hugging my stomach without mercy
pronounces me a frump.
Besides, in the internet café,
where you can phone Tangiers
or Thailand for almost nothing
fourteen pairs of eyes
are absorbed by screens.
No one whistles when I smile
at boxes of tired mangoes
and seedy broccoli heads
outside the Greek superstore.

By now I’m in a fever to undo
the garment and pull it off.
And for all its flaws, for all
that it only boasts one breast,
I’m overjoyed to re-possess
my body. I remember I hate
holding in and shutting away.
What I want is a dress easy
as a plump plum oozing
juice, as a warm afternoon
in late October creeping
its ambers and cinnamons into
leaves, a dress that reassures
there’s no need to pretend,
a dress that’s as capacious
as generosity, a dress that willingly
unbuttons and whispers in the ear:
be alive every minute of your life.

The Red Dress from Circling the Core by Myra Schneider, 2008

I know that there are a number of women who read this blog who have or are in remission from cancer, including breast cancer. Also there a few who are the caretakers of someone with cancer. Mulling on that today while I acted as scribe and moral support for a friend visiting her primary care physician, I decided that Ms. Schneider would be the next in my periodic and informal sharing of favorite poets. Ms. Schneider’s first poetry collection was published in 1984. In 2000, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Writing for her – as for many – was a part of the healing process. She journaled two weeks after diagnosis:

I have to hang onto the thought of friends and the relatives and friends of people I know who have survived for years and years after breast cancer. I owe it to myself to manage my panic and to make this a life experience not a death experience, to concentrate on possibilities, to grab every moment of life I can, to use what has happened for writing, to include the awfulnesses but also the plusses. I mustn’t forget the moments of joy: the sun lying in swathes on the grass, the sharp clean cut of the air, the disc of the sun on water. I must keep the words that came into my head about the snowdrops I saw in a garden when we walked to the shops a couple of hours ago. I think it’s the starting point of a poem. MORE

An accessible poet, Ms. Schneider has authored several poetry collections, young adult fiction, and books on writing: Writing for Self Discovery and Writing My Way Through Cancer. The later describes her journey from diagnosis to recovery and encompasses various treatments and their effects, including mastectomy. She provides practical suggestions for using writing in recovery and healing.

This post:

IN MEMORY OF MOM and GIGI EVANS, MARY, PARVATHI, and DEBORAH.

and

DEDICATED TO E, L, A, R, and B.

With love and in solidarity …