shuck cell borders and smile

I look to my sewing kit as though I could embody knotted string pulled through insides taut. When asked, I already have “I’m okay” poised on tip of tongue and face tight. I make lists so as not to forget; everything gets an annotation tightly kept. At times I get lost looking at photographs; chest relaxes in breath and I remember I can smile. I must inventory and archive. Tick. I receive litanies of food tray items and object markers on slow walks. I thread together combinations of words and phrases sent to me across text strings: tropical atrium, leukocyte count, box of chocolate, Müllerian adenocarcinoma, “mom sends a big kiss”, epithelial tissue, “her spirit is high”, subcutaneous drain. Every update brings loose tears but I type tight statements emphatic. I mark days passed on my calendar and press back those we await. Tick. Tight. I oscillate between detachment through preoccupation and through lying prostrate. Let loose/hold tight. I exist in the limbo that is this room turning into that one, in time that passes without passing. Diagnosis too loose, no time. Tick. My dad sends photos that I can’t differentiate from hospital bed and plastic tube and day; I let the background blur liquid until myopic I see her smile. I try to speak smile on speaker as nurses come in and out, adjustments are made (tight), and utterances become ambience (loose). Tight voice frays, eyes loose. The corners of my mouth too tightly lifted, I talk to the insurance company about BRCA screening and try to laugh about the phrase “genetic counselor”. The joke is on them. I daydream tight string cell borders loose as we become that which flows between shared smiles. Unraveled but bound.

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Visualizations of Disease: Data Embodied

As someone interested in visualizations of information and composing image texts, I have been thinking about what I would create to illustrate (make visible) the cancer that consumed/s the women in my family. It seems morbid, or at least uncomfortable, to want to depict the disease without emphasizing narratives of overcoming or resilience, that letting it be seen as it is disembodies the bodies that have nurtured it. I have watched videos of surgeries on women that exist only as torsos or of cartoon monster cells sneaking throughout the body, and images that are illustrations of tumors forcing tissue into distorted asymmetries and photographs that look like alien fruit. I can see my own diagnosis as typeface and an exercise of balance and white space on the page, as calendar tickmarks taking inventory of days and anomalies in patterns of pain, and as Rorschach bloodblots that I am too fearful to interpret. I could show my family tree with attention drawn to deep bark carved, extending back, to the bough my mother and I now share. I could show each type of cancer with its corresponding woman/body: breast ___________, ovarian _____________, uterine ______________, cervical _________________. Not to forget the nodal tissues connected to these networks of disease as they thrived and spread: pectoralis major, kidney, colon, liver, fallopian tubes—trace the intractions. I could create charts that depict the age of diagnosis, comparisons of treatment undergone, or the duration of the disease. Or perhaps an archive of the women (of which I am living materiality), or poems and paintings of the affective dimensions of the rhetorics of silence and pain and disembodiment. Of strength and resilience. Or faces of women I love.

mom