Quincy Gray McMichael

What Was Lost

Zblizenie by Rudolf Rabatin

My face, before and after.
My nose
Sharp and long,
A dividing line,
Splits my face.
They say
No one looks the same on both sides:
One eye higher,
One ear wider,
But the closer the match,
The more beautiful
The wearer.
Perhaps this is true.
They say
The older the face
The looser the skin
The craggier the eyes,
Beauty wanes with time.
This may seem true
To some;
Perhaps it is.
When they found cancer
I let them dig it out
Five times,
Gouging my nose,
Nearly scooping my eye.
I wanted it all
On the long drive home
I tried to rest
But the Summer sun shone
In my mind
Browned tender skin, slowly
Frying on my face.
On that dark January day
From hot hours long past—
Passed in the sun,
Working, tending.
Digging, hauling, sweating.
No resting, no shade.
This is how you got here,
I think.
Everything will be okay,
I lie,

When we make that final turn
Into the driveway,
The last of many twists of the wheel
After winding
East of the Appalachians
Over the Alleghenies, and
Bridging the Greenbrier
North into the forest,
I sigh, realizing
I have been holding my breath.
The house is cold,
Cast iron stove like black ice.
He lights the fire.
I let him, helpless,
Not allowed to bend
Or lift, lest I bleed
From the freshly formed socket
Near my left eye.
We curl together under cold flannel
Heaped with chilly down
My head propped, neck
Stiff like a sleeping Pharaoh,
I watch the darkness
Listen for his breath
As it changes.
Leaning into the long night,
I do sleep, somehow.
Minutes at a time, it seems,
Before morning, breakfast,
Gracious help with chores,
And a return to the crooked road:
Greenbrier River
Allegheny Mountains
Blue Ridge
Fontaine 415
J. Christophel, Plastic Surgeon.
I breathe in, steadying
For this last sprint,
Rising carefully into the cold
Morning parking lot.

Once the bandage drops,
And my face sits, naked,
Rudely red and scoured hollow:
There will be no fix today
No quick stitch
To reshape
As anticipated.
When I first see the hole
In my face, really
There are two
But the larger could hold a quarter,
Its allure is fascinating.
I cry
Full-on snotty sobs,
In the Ear, Nose, and Throat chair
My back to the window
Partner at my side
Doc in front
Doc student and nurse aghast
Though I cannot see through my tears.
Instead, a bolster
Soaked in yellow
Packed into my wound,
Sewn in place—
Thick black thread binding
Skin to gauze to skin again.
Come back in two weeks
Don’t get it wet
Don’t even think about
Bending to tie your shoe
Or load the stove
Or gather one of the rolling
Dozen pups growing in the barn.
Just sit quietly,
Without exertion,
And grow some tissue
On that scraped-bare bone.

When my time comes,
I return, over
Two mountain ranges
For the transfer.
The thinnest skin
From behind my left ear
Offers itself: virgin, fair,
Graft. Wait.
The same as before:
No bending, no lifting,
No bathing your face.
Lots of waiting.
I offer to spread rich lard
On the fresh scar, but
Christophel declines.
He offers petrol instead.
Keep it moist.
I don bandages for months.
Privately, I peek at my new skin
My new look
The new me?
But I am not my face.
I am not my face,
I remind myself,
Making eye contact
With the woman in the mirror.
Unsure whom to believe.
This was the right choice
I remember his words
As he drew my eyes to a screen,
Showed me wounds worse than mine
Scared me, straight
Into acceptance,
Gratitude, even.
I can do this,
I thought
It’s just my face.

Well-loved women,
All of beauty,
Crones I know deeply,
All ladies I love,
Speak of the day,
In their fifty-second year
Or the fortieth
Or the sixty-third
Perhaps age forty-nine,
When the mirror revealed another face
A newly aged face
Pulled loose in a corner
By the eye, maybe, or
Under her chin
And she sees herself anew.
This is not easy,
Finding oneself
After learning and life
And work and children and dogs
And love reflected
And wet tears dried,
But she does it.
Adjusting to advancement
Minute by day
Before finding herself
Joyfully, capriciously
Again, in the mirror.
I wonder
If I ought to expect this
As I age.
Or perhaps I already
Found balance
In uncertainty
At thirty-three
While walking the line of division
Between what was and what is,
Settling into eventual comfort
With the latter, erratic look.
My face, now divided
One side carries scars
One side, none.
Both flush with possibility.
Which was the prettiest?
I cannot recall.


About the writer:
Quincy Gray McMichael was raised by curious and creative parents in the woods of Maine. She studied Human Ecology, Permaculture Design, and Regional Foodways at College of the Atlantic, Antioch and Prescott Colleges, and Le Cordon Bleu London. Love of food and farming brought her to West Virginia, where she has family roots. When not at her writing desk, Quincy stewards her farm, Vernal Vibe Rise, on Moneton ancestral land, where she works with rare livestock, perennial edibles, wild fermentation, and permaculture design. Quincy is pursuing her MFA from Spalding University while writing a hybrid manuscript that blends poetry and memoir.

Image: Zblizenie by Rudolf Rabatin. Acrylic on unspecified medium. 50 x 60 cm. 2011. By free license.

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