Ten Apologies To My Body


Pablo Picasso – Woman in a Red Armachair – 1934


(with thanks to jayy dodd for the prompt)

1. To my breasts: You were the offering, the slaughtered calf, the V-neck password, the proof the world needed that I was, in fact, a girl. With my mother’s history of breast cancer, I know that one day you might be cut away from me, and maybe that’s why I never took the time to really love you, not in the dark, by heart, with only my own hands to frame you. I’m sorry.

2. To my heart: I hated how your hunger drove me off the road every time. How the worst pain I’ve ever felt was in you, the splintering core, an ache so bright I could read by its glow and see my name signed after every shatter: yes, i did this, loved the wrong person again and again, saw my own wicked shining and watched the fear tear open, a bursting cloud of spiders, a knife made of fingernails, a hand muffling your siren as i lay in bed watching the noise spill under the doorframe. I’m sorry.

3. To my brain: When you said, “everyone hates you, you’ll never be enough for them, you’ll end up alone, you should die,” I should have known what a ventriloquist depression can be. Or is, because the truth is I still think all of that, only on good days I’m able to translate it to mean, “I’m sick, please take care of me.” When the anxiety crawls up my throat and drowns my language in its own flavor, I try to taste it for what it is. It isn’t your fault for catching the virus born into this body. Every day we survive together is its own kind of miracle.

4. To my nose: Jew beak. Witch snout. My mother says it’s anti-Semitic to say that I look Jewish, but then how does everyone know by looking at me? “Jews suck,” says the girl next to me in my 6th grade social studies class. She glares at my nose and all the kids laugh. I think the teacher will correct her, but instead he says, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” and slams the textbook closed.

5. To my eyes: On a clear day I can see my grandmother in you. In her last days at the hospice, she let her eyes do the talking. When my mom left the room for me to say goodbye, I held her hand and told her not to be afraid. She gave me a look as if to say “what the fuck?” and “oh honey” and “fear is a river i could cross in my sleep” and a thousand words I have no translation for, only a glimpse, a hand run over a still pool of water. The next day, her eyes lost their light and she stared at nothing, or everything, and even though she was breathing she wasn’t there, or she was but not where we left her. Every year that goes by, my eyesight gets worse and I’m scared of blindness or really of disappearing.

6. To my pussy: What is there not to love about you? Even when you made him think I wanted it when I didn’t, I knew it wasn’t your fault. I’ve never been sorry for your hunger, and I won’t start now.

7. To the lines in my face: Am I a map? Is time the compass? This mirror doesn’t hate me, it just refuses to lie. If I see my mother in you, I must be near home.

8. To my body hair: When the boy called me a gorilla, I shaved my arms. The hair grew back thicker and darker. I’ve tried shaving, bleaching, waxing, tweezing. I felt bad for anyone who had to look at or touch me. When my mom had chemo, she missed her eyelashes. I’m sorry I took for granted what it means to have something grow.

9. To my throat: When the boy said, “do you like this?”, when the teacher said, “who knows the answer?”, when the man said, “what were you thinking?”, when the boy said, “let me take a picture of you”, when the girl said, “my boyfriend can’t know”, when my friend said, “you’re a 3, but you could be a 5”, when the boy said, “did you come?”, when she said “you don’t even care, do you?” when the door wanted to open, but i held the knob tight.

10. To my stomach: This year, a doctor cut inside of you to enter my ovaries and I was terrified I would wake up barren, or not at all, and what is it to be running towards the end of fertility and still unsure of what I want, or can have? The scars that frame you are mouths in silent hum, the one in my belly button sings the loudest, it says you are more than what tethers you, and what tethers you is more than this.



About Joanna Hoffman

Joanna Hoffman is a poet and teaching artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She has been on five National Poetry Slam teams. In 2011, she represented Urbana at the 2011 Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS), National Poetry Slam, and Individual World Poetry Slam, placing in the top 10 at all three. In 2012, she was the Urbana Grand Slam champion, 4th place finalist at the 2012 Women of the World Poetry Slam, and the 2012 champion of Capturing Fire, the international queer poetry competition. Her work has appeared in decomP, PANK, Union Station Magazine, The Legendary, Spindle, Sinister Wisdom and in the anthologies Women’s Work and Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry. Her full-length book of poetry, Running for Trap Doors, was recently released by Sibling Rivalry Press. She has been nominated for a Pushcart and a Lambda Literary Award. When not performing poems, Joanna works at a nonprofit, bikes around Brooklyn and tries to convince her cat to wear bow ties. View all posts by Joanna Hoffman

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