K.G. Strayer is a trans, non-binary writer and artist from Michigan. Their poems have appeared in Yemassee Journal, Midwestern Gothic, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere.
I drive my mother to surgery to remove a tumor
the doctor said was basically benign but also
we get there and everyone keeps saying carcinoid
like maybe he forgot the word benign in this context
is only allowed one definition. The tumor is more
or less tame. We wipe down her whole body
with sanitizing towelettes and she says don’t look
when I take my bra off, it will scare you.
A hospital is a point of departure. Here we are,
sanitary in the new year. Glittering in iodine.
No one is herself inside a hospital, only a body
and the body’s permanent record. It’s here
that I begin to practice not smiling at anyone.
Not moving out of the way in the elevator.
There’s a floor surrounded by windows
and greenery I can’t bring myself to call houseplants.
Full trees looming. I think I’m supposed to forget.
I sit across from a gigantic money tree outgrowing
its braid. Two little girls amble by with their father,
one says are these fake or real? And her older sister
tells her everything is fake. The ground is soil
beneath the stamped concrete, and for a moment
I think the hospital left a door open down
into the Earth. But I know plants like this only grow
in controlled conditions. I saw the moisture meters
in the pots upstairs. Careful not to overwater.
My friend who knows every plant’s name
and needs outside my doorstep is always insisting
my houseplants need bigger pots. But some plants love
for their roots to touch one another, crowd in tightly,
root-bound, and describing this to her feels too sad.
I sit alone in a waiting room for the doctor to tell me
how the surgery went. He shakes my hand
with a hand that has cut out a threatening piece
of my mother. Apologizes for my long day.
He is the exception in that he is always himself
and only himself in this room. And am I
more or less of a daughter? More or less
of a mother? She struggles coming out
of the anesthesia, strangely soft and safe.
She offers me her leftover saltines. Her beautiful
signature a messy scribble on the release forms.
She doesn’t remember talking to the doctor,
so she asks me how the surgery went. If she’s going
to be okay. Sometimes the roots become so curled,
there’s no soil left. Sometimes you
need to break the pot to get them out.