Monday, March 10, 2014

LM Rochefort

HeLa’s Cells*

after I died, leavin’ five babies
Doctor took some of my cancer skin, sliced it thin
as spirit, got cultured, they say                        such little bits of me
living immortal in saintly sterile white labs
big as cathedrals

holy heaven’s a freezer. must be so, though I been hot as hell
as well, what with curing polio, HIV, HPV and all those other diseases
traveling to space even (me! who’d only been to Baltimore)

testing time, always testing: tubes, pipettes, agar plates
but oh, the pain, their litanies

hurt more than radiation, the poisons and top secret, privately-funded
experimental cloning                     yet I’ve been slowly makin’ connections:
everytime you gets—no, get—a vaccine, I spread out
everywhere, in air, in Russia         etcetera
and I’m learning from you. What else to do? I listen

close, to everyone, & thank god for osmosis.
but I’m no Goddess, as some say
for if I was, I’d shout out now:

only one thing She be missin’ these
sixty years on I’d tell ’em if I could:
other than the weight
of sleepin’ babes in arms:
Henrietta Lacks oblivion

* Henrietta Lacks was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who, in 1951, sought treatment for cervical cancer at the Johns Hopkins medical centre in the U.S.A. Without her knowledge or permission, doctors took samples of her malignant tumour cells, successfully grew them in cultures and distributed them worldwide for research purposes. It’s estimated that the number of “HeLa” cells bought and sold for billions of dollars over more than 60 years, could circle the earth three times. When Henrietta died at the age of 31, she left five children, many of whom cannot afford health benefits. This ekphrastic poem, the first in a series based on Henrietta’s story, was inspired by Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, Random House, 2010. 


Sex @ 31: A Journal Entry

positions the diddle versus the didactic
so she studies this German philosophy
student’s deft definition of triceps     watches
his fingers and thumb fan       a dry
susurrus of pages         the long wait
for his waist    a test    he is
            a          traveler
who stays within the margins
of pure action; refines a form of self-
embodied knowledge from a boiling
alchemy of experience            still—a little
to the left—without straying
or spills            just moans of
            ooh      please
well, every Zeitgeist has its day
in bed – peaks, plateaus, peaks
again:   one shelf, stripped of books
holds only the sigh of             words
whispered in an ear                 the tilt
of hip   against wall     press
            your     body
against mine                and all their theories
resolve themselves                  in pleasure
the sweat-soaked sheets hide
one forgotten shirt (beige)      imbued
with flat perfume of sun and dusty roads
a whole sweet world in a bed,  a
            verb     conjugated
by the cock of a pen, crusty traces
left on creamy white page: a distillation
an unmistakable one-off         ex-
periment          indelible ink-scent
of him etched on her mind      redolent
with a presence passed and the
            past      present.

Almost Alone On the Great Wall of China

Oh come on, he said, no one`s alone in China....
If you really want to be, she said, if it’s January, if it’s
minus thirty in Beijing with the wind-chill factor, if your
Canadian winters in training have taught you to dress properly
(the trick’s in the layers) and if you’re tired of the crowds, but mostly
sick and tired of your by-rote guide, the one who’s astonished to meet a
woman travelling alone, the one with crusty balls of sleep in the corners of
his eyes ‘till four in the afternoon (but I read in Lonely Planet that it’s considered
rude to remove them in public) the one who yells at his driver and thinks you can’t recognize
the sound of shit in any language, the one who tries to hide his disappointment when you ask and finally, he tells you, he has a two year old daughter; the one who huffs ‘impossible’ at the notion of China’s first woman Chairperson; the one, to give him his due, who can rhyme off every dynasty in the last four thousand years, the one who tries to dissuade you from a visit
to Tiananmen Square since ‘there’s nothing to see’... Well, I wasn’t completely
alone, she added: on the way up the three thousand mile wall (not true: you
can’t see it from space) I crossed an Icelandic couple. We didn’t chat long:
the wind was sharp and cold as a knife, the banners flapping loud as
a thousand horses’ hooves, so furiously we thought they’d be
ripped from their masts, streaks of red flowing against a
scream of blue sky; rivers of blood, upside down… 

barely their

daughter          dot.thin 
bones               pin                   brittle
un-slim self      a false mirror crack-
ed psyche lets in          little break(s)ing
light     eee       ee-E-K-G gent-

eel (elle) eeked out      eat-less                       
elect     (lech) ribs yell skel-a-ton
electro             shock   trompe-
l’oeil    miss                 fire
elect-trope       lie, die-it, B-M-I-

it indexed        flexercise         ex-                  
cised miss es    electrolyte nerve
pulses  i/imp/possible              os-
seous   skin bully         bulging buli-
mia      dil/emma         ann or an/or/ex/ia

“So far, I’ve achieved just over 70% of what I set out to do… Not bad for an 80 year-old’s life
I suppose.” –Anonymous former architect and poet.

It’s like design—there’s one line
on the page      and then
the other—you commit
you push the pen north
            not south
it stains the arctic
white of page  you leave behind
            what you’ve put in

falls from childhood
a drop of blood
like payment    drips
            the doctor’s black bag
the trashy tinkle of instruments
sterilized in a pan, on the oven
tray      everything clangs
in the kitchen at night.

cat gut sown in tongue:
your mewling,
the mesh of things
becomes your scaffolding.
What surprise to have known
then you would not later be
who you are now…
the self holds on tighter
if it knows its own architecture

still, some patterns set.

we fill them in. raised
as one of four, adopt four:
for this
there is no metaphor. the years
the praise         the struggles
the good                      the bad
—the averaging—
a good night’s sleep

your love beside you.

Picture of Lise Rochefort  LM Rochefort, a member of Ruby Tuesdays writing group,
 is a freelance writer, editor and porfolio/careerist who spends much
of her spare time as Arc Poetry Magazine's Associate Poetry Editor. 
Her poetry has been long-listed for the 2011 Montreal International 
Poetry Prize and won the Diana Brebner Poetry Prize, the CAA 
National Capital Region's and Carleton University's International
Poetry Prizes. She sits on the fence (just for the view) and as a
bilingual Franco-Ontarian, enjoys outings on both sides of the Ontario/
Quebec divide. She is working on her first trade book of poetry
tentatively titled Water, Steam and Ice.

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