Shirley J. Brewer

Memoir in 22 Lines

Because I learn the Cartwheel Galaxy is 500 million
light-years from Earth,
I tether my story to numbers:

Age 2. In the front-page newspaper photo,
I’m holding a globe-shaped clock, a reminder to turn back the hour.
The caption claims: She has time on her hands.

Age 5. Grandma Alice gifts me a kaleidoscope.
This magic wand alive in my hands—slender
telescope revealing a universe of colored glass.

Age 7. I write fairy tales on lined school paper,
unfurling my imagination. My hand makes
punctuation marks like pinpricks, a map of tiny stars.

Ages 8-14. My trick-or-treat era. Hands toss Turkish Taffy,
Fire Balls, Butterfingers and other candy bars into my bag.
I gravitate to Milky Ways.

Here is everything you need to know—how I catapult
from colors to words and back again, how schedules constrict.
Always, I want to cartwheel through Earth-years,

adrift in my own galaxy, my sweet time zone.
How bold I am to choose among 500 million
possibilities for poems. Such an astronomical array.
You might say: She tries to capture a little sugar, a little light.

Cubicle 4

Dead Salmon? Rotten Raspberry?
No comfort radiates from these pink walls
in the Breast Imaging Center’s waiting room.
I survey my sisters—faces beyond pale—
all of us called back for further testing.

Someone half-shouts my name, brings me to Cubicle 4,
possible setting for a Stanley Kubrick film—
less Lolita, more A Space Odyssey. I remove
sweater and bra, don a paper cape,
wait for take off. Sweat soaks my brow.

Cheryl, robot clone, escorts me across the hall.
A foreign machine—HAL 9000?— compresses my breast.
I’m halfway to Jupiter now. A quick trek
back to Cubicle 4. More waiting.

Kim leads me to the sonogram outpost
where aliens lurk behind ceiling tiles.
The radiologist pops in, a vision in astral white.
You’re fine, she says. Several benign cysts.
See you in one year.
Music cue: “The Blue Danube.”

Cubicle 4 surrenders my earth clothes.
Struck by starlight, I return in triumph
to the galactic splendor of Pink.

Shirley J. Brewer (Baltimore MD) serves as poet-in-residence at Carver Center for the Arts & Technology. A Pushcart nominee, her poems garnish Barrow Street, Passager, Gargoyle, Little Patuxent Review, Poetry East, Slant, among other journals and anthologies. Shirley’s poetry books include A Little Breast Music (Passager Books), After Words (Apprentice House Press), and Bistro in Another Realm (Main Street Rag). Her fourth poetry collection, Wild Girls, is forthcoming from Apprentice House Press, Spring 2023.