Return to Permafrost Issue 39.2: The Great Seclusion

ST. AGATHA AND MY MOTHER’S MASTECTOMY

by Emma Hyche

 
Agatha, woman and not yet woman
at 15. Breasts pincered off by brothel
keeper and emperor for her faith.
 
My mother and her New Testament
on the gurney’s bedside table. Apple cake
from neighbors untouched by the IV bag.
 
But what if the man Agatha refused
refused to rest in turn, what if he swelled
her belly with babies? Small thing scrabbling
 
at her chest and finding nothing, clenched fists
of the mid-third century. What is a woman
without something to give?
 
My mother took my hand–the indelible
hostess entertaining misapprehension
that suffering produces holiness.
 
My mother’s thirst to eliminate want
for fullness. My mother’s assurance that
things happen because of divine will.
 
God twines in Agatha and my mother’s
million neurons like electric shock. In the hospital,
all she wanted to talk about were dresses:
 
what cut could best disguise absence,
hide the outline of stitches spidering
in surgical thread across her chest.
 
All the money she’ll save on bras.
The notion of freeing with the precondition
of access, of standing before the congregation
 
chest bare and glorying. The way
women’s torture can be painted
on church walls if it’s all for God.