Mammary Memories

by | Feb 5, 2023

your arm accidentally
touches my breast
in the middle of the night

in that region between
wake and sleep
I panic

I imagine your memories
you touching them
them touching you
you touching you

I re-remember me touching you
you touching me
him touching me
me touching him
me touching me

The latter is the only safe place I find

I re-remember radiation
targeting my breast
burnt flesh
destruction to bring healing

if only it were that clear
cells die, cellular memory remains
swelled shadows of flesh and
emotional bruises

I find my beloved aunt’s
silicone prosthetic breast
wrapped in a perky pink cloth
in a storage container
in the basement
my touch breaks through
twenty-year-old gel

the two-pound weight she carried daily
for over 20 years
to stabilize her balance
both mental and physical
a reminder each day of her loss

like little tattoos on my breast
to target the radiation
signs of survival
traces of doubt and trauma

I hold my breasts in my palms
estimate their individual weight
at 2 pounds, one a little less

the memories still weigh more

(question: I’m going back and forth on the title; the original is “A Breast full of Memories”)


  1. Dominique Christina

    I struggle with titling things myself. What I want to hone in on is the fact that indeed while cells die, the memory of those cells remain, in the body, in the brain. I found my own aunt’s prosthetics after a double mastectomy she had and remember sitting on the edge of her bed holding them, thinking about the cruelty of it all and how seismic my auntie is and how things that weigh so little weigh so very much and how the body is only the body but the body is also so much more then the body. Thank you for this.

  2. Meg Tuite

    WOW Jennifer! This is multi-generational which is always a winner for me! “swelled shadows of flesh and emotional bruises” “wrapped in a perky pink cloth” “my touch breaks through twenty-year-old gel” and that gorgeous segment of ‘touching’ and who! This is a eulogy of sorts to cellular memory and that destruction brings healing. So much in this beauty! Thank you, is right! Outstanding! DEEP LOVE!

  3. Koss (No Last Name)

    Jennifer, kudos to you for writing such a vulnerable and lovely piece. Brings to mind things I’ve read about phantom limb pain. Our energetic bodies remember. And we carry our ancestors in our DNA. But you bring loss into the human realm with your heart. Lovely work. I like either title, although perhaps “A Breast” a tad more due to how our culture misuses the word “mammary.”

  4. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Jennifer, tears through this, as breast cancer also exists in my family, and friends, too. Very deft, soft but strong touch with your words. Love the re-remember repeat, and the science words, the generational addition with aunt’s silicone prosthetic breast. I think a piece like this one is worthy of The New Yorker. Yes, I said that. (I like your Mammary Memories title)

  5. Len Kuntz


    This was a haunt. So tender and observant. The details ripe and honest. The way you move from the narrator to the aunt and back again is a great touch. And those last five words are incredible.

  6. Karen Keefe

    Oh Jennifer, such a complete and gentle capture of what happens in both our body, but also our mind and spirit when an illness that changes everything takes us over. So very interesting in the telling the progression of the illness, the progression through historical and personal treatment. The tattoing of the body, mind and nervous system. The beloved aunt. So, so well done. Thank you!

  7. Sheree Shatsky

    The weight … of the prosthetic/ the wait … through treatment, through recovery … the collective weight of the memories of both … I take this with me after reading this tender work.

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