From TEN COMMANDMENTS
In the shower, at the shaving mirror or beach,
For years I'd
led . . . the unexamined life?
When all along and so easily within
(Closer even than the nonexistent wife)
Lurking in a useless, overlooked
fat and old newspaper stuff
About matters I regularly
As a horror story for the opposite sex,
Nothing to do
with what at my downtown gym
Are furtively ogled as The Guy's
But one side is swollen, the too tender skin
So the doctor orders an X-
Ray, and nervously frowns at my nervous
Mammography's on the basement
The nurse has an executioner's gentle eyes.
I start to
unbutton my shirt. She shuts the door.
Fifty, male, already
embarrassed by the size
Of my "breasts," I'm told to put the left
Up on a smudged, cold, Plexiglas shelf,
Part of a robot half
menacing, half glum,
Like a three-dimensional model of the Freudian
Angles are calculated. The computer beeps.
on a flatness further compressed.
There's an ache near the heart
neither dull nor sharp.
The room gets lethal. Casually the nurse
Behind her shield. Anxiety as blithely suggests
about a snapshot for my Christmas card.
"No sign of cancer," the radiologist swans
In to say--with
just a hint in his tone
That he's done me a personal
His look darkens. "But what these pictures show . .
Here, look, you'll notice the gland on the left's
See?" I see an aerial shot
Of Iraq, and nod. "We'll need further
Of course, but I'd bet that what you've got
Is a liver
problem. Trouble with your estrogen
Levels. It's time, my friend, to
It happens more often than you'd think to
Reeling from its millionth scotch on the rocks,
words, my liver's sensed the end.
Why does it come as something less
than a shock?
The end of life as I've
known it, that is to say--
Testosterone sported like a power
The matching set of drives and dreads that may
Now soon be
plumped to whatever new designs
My apparently resentful,
Inner life has on me. Blind seer?
The Bearded Lady in
some provincial circus?
Something that others both desire and
Still, doesn't everyone long to be changed,
to, no matter, a higher or lower state,
To know the leathery D-Day
Detachment, the queen bee's dreamy loll?
but the future each of us blankly awaits
Was long ago written on the
So suppose the breasts fill
out until I look
Like my own mother . . . ready to nurse a son,
version of myself, the infant understood
In the end as the way my own
death had come.
Or will I in a decade be back here again,
diagnosis this time not freakish but fatal?
The changes in one's
later years all tend,
Until the last one, toward the
Each of us slowly turned into something that
Someone we no longer recognize.
If soul is the final shape
I shall assume,
(--A knock at the door. Time to button my
And head back out into the waiting room.)
Which of my bodies
will have been the best disguise?
Excerpted from Ten Commandments by J. D. McClatchy. Copyrightę 1998 by J. D. McClatchy. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of
Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this poem or audio file may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.