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Poems by Mercilee Jenkins
So I'm walking along in my neighborhood
and I see this sign printed on the sidewalk
in bold block letters:
STOP THINKING ABOUT SEX
What could that mean?
Someone thinks we're thinking
about sex too much?
But who? And why?
Is it here because I live in the Castro
and queers are supposed to think
about sex all the time?
Or is this command printed all over San Francisco?
Did some Bible-thumping-right-winger
Sinners Be Saved
Stop Thinking about Sex!
Or was someone reading my mind?
I have been thinking about sex lately
and enjoying it.
How nice to think that the author
is talking to me, personally.
I am guilty.
Of course, the sentence makes you do
what it's telling you not to do.
Maybe it means
stop thinking about sex
and do something.
MEDITATION WITH CAT IN YOUR LAP
First call the cat
or better yet wait
until she comes to you.
As she settles in your lap
notice your breathing
while you stroke her fur
and caress her softness,
listen to her purring
and join your breath with hers.
A cat does not need to be taught
how to relax.
Learn from her.
See how she half closes her eyes
gazing at nothing in particular
but noticing everything.
Do the same.
Remember your breathing.
Do thoughts of mice come to her
and does she bat them away
when she blinks?
Do the same.
Regard all the ideas and
familiar concerns that float
through your head
as nothing you need
to chase after right now.
Later you can decide.
You can choose
which ones are keepers
and just when to let go.
Like a cat with her prey
when she grows tired of it
she walks away
licking herself unconcerned.
You can always go back
for those troubles on your
But for now just stretch out
your paws and yawn.
Curl up with your cat
like a long-lost litter mate.
Everything else can wait
while you breathe.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FIND OUT YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER
Call all your friends and ask them to help you.
Get mad as hell and rage at the medical industrial establishment
for not taking better care of you.
Blame the government for not taking better care of all women
and this planet.
If someone says,
What did you do to get this?
Say, I was born after World War II
during the time of above-ground nuclear testing.
All my life, I drank the water and breathed the air
that has been polluted by industry.
I worked too hard for the money I needed to live
and my heart has been broken because too many of my friends
have died of AIDS.
And no, breast cancer doesn't run in my family
but it's running like crazy through the family of woman.
Thirty years ago it was 1 in 20,
now it's 1 in 8.
But we're told there's no cause for concern.
Maybe it's our diet
we should eat less fat
until we disappear
no breasts to speak of
no flesh to nourish this disease.
If someone gives you the book
Love, Medicine and Miracles
(and they will)
first throw it across the room
because you don't want to hear about
how you are responsible for your own healing.
Then pick it up and read it
and find out the author thinks it's good to be a troublesome patient
and realize you are well on your way.
Do whatever you need to do
to make yourself feel whole again:
walk on the beach,
prune the garden with a fury,
have secret ceremonies by moonlight with witchy friends,
or rent a lot of old movies and cry as much as you can.
Go to the doctor.
When he pulls the drain out of your side
get a good look at your mastectomy scar,
then go out and get drunk.
When your doctor surprises you with the news
that now you are going to have chemotherapy,
and ask your partner to cut off all your hair
because you're going to lose it anyway.
If the diagnosis doesn't kill you,
the cure sure feels like it will.
Tell the newspapers to ban all lingerie ads
since they only make you jealous
of women with two breasts of any size.
Tell your doctors and your well-meaning friends
you are not cheered up by the idea
that now you can get perfect fake breasts
to replace your middle-aged natural ones
which you like just fine, thank-you-very-much
because they respond to sexual stimulation
and fake ones don't.
Funny we never seem to talk about that.
And you will find out things you don't want to know
like who your real friends are,
the ones who offer to help and mean it.
Or what your love relationship is all about.
Fifty percent of relationships break up
and not because you are abandoned
but because you can no longer afford to love people
who don't nurture you.
Find out how spiritual you really are.
Don't be afraid to pray
and ask whoever is "in"
as you see it--that great being in the sky--
to lift you up to where you belong
and carry you on a dove's breath
away from all this
'cause you certainly don't belong here.
And tell yourself you love yourself
even if you don't mean it.
Tell yourself that every day
until you do.
That won't make up for the loss
but it will take you to
the next person you're going to be:
wiser, more beautiful,
capable of kicking ass and taking prisoners
And when they call you a
tell them no
you're much more than that.
You're a whole woman inside out.
You're a self-made woman
and you celebrate life
every time you think of it
and you feel lucky
and you bless your body and honor those who have died
because that's what eventually happens to one out of three of us.
So you tell that person
that it's about so much more than surviving.
It's about defining yourself by new rules
even if you don't know
how it's all going to end.
Mercilee Jenkins is a teacher, playwright, poet, and performer. She lives in the Castro and is an avid reader of the Noe Valley Voice. Two of her poems, "A Sign" and "What to Do When You Find Out You Have Breast Cancer," are part of a solo performance piece, Menopause & Desire, which she performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival last year. The entire script will be published in Text and Performance Quarterly in 2004. Jenkins' latest play, She Rises Like a Building to the Sky, about the founding of the San Francisco Women's Building, will be produced next year as part of the Women's Building's 25th anniversary celebration.