Daughter as Witness

1. Diagnosis

Your scars have scars
the nurse says, and you
thank her because you wear
your scars like girl scout patches.

The first time a doctor said
You’re a trooper, the collection
began. That first pinch,
that search for hidden seams.

You learned from your father
that your veins, like his, hibernate.
He knew you liked stories
about gathering, sleeping, hiding.

He wanted you to root
for each vessel, celebrate
each ouch as victory.

2. Place Markers

One inch lattice
Bobbed wire thicket
Speed hump

Ringless Saturn
Black hole
Orion

Connect the dots

3. Fear

Another aunt dies.
You jokingly lament
that you will get the cancer
that demolishes you
but leaves you as witness,
then builds scaffolding
on top of debris.

4. Denial

You avoid the doctor.
You name pulpy masses.
Your skin creates narratives.
You avoid all things compression,
all things sanguine,
medical dramas,
Abilify commercials,
your remaining aunts.
Your mother calls you ghost.

5. Daughter as Witness

When she enters the room,
she does not look at him.

The television plays tranquil,
displays mountains and streams.

She notices the floors,
flecks of stained glass.

Kitty litter under his bed.
Monitor imitates pulse.

He breathes like hibernating mammals.
She thinks he dreams of salmon.

When she looks at him, she counts
patches and constellations.

He wears infinity. His feet,
in bondage, are bandaged.

No place to rebuild.
No stable fragments.

She needs to sleep, needs
to gather. She leaves for lunch.

Volunteers sit with him.
She counts stoplights and turns, taps

to the tick of car blinker.
Her phone rings.


Kateema Lee is a Washington D. C. native. She’s a Cave Canem Fellow, a Callaloo Workshop fellow and an associate editor for the Potomac Review. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in print and online journals such as African American Review, Poet Lore, Gargoyle, PMS:Poemmemoirstory, and others. Her chapbook, Almost Invisible, is forthcoming.

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