A Story About the Body

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A Story About the Body   -Robert Hass
The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. 

He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she was amused, or considered answers to his questions.
One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you I have had a double mastectomy”

and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.”

The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–
like music–withered, very quickly, and he made himself look
at her when he said,
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.”
He walked back to his own cabin through the pines,
and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the
porch outside the door.

It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found
when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top;

the rest of the bowl–
she must have swept them from the corners of her studio–
was full of dead bees.


Photo location: Charlotte, N.C.



0 thoughts on “A Story About the Body”

  1. Loved this. Such a stark ending…it surprised me! Beautifully simple short story about looking deeper into people before you turn away. Also, the bees under the petals to me signified that he was sweet on the surface but hurtful underneath. Loved this M……….P

  2. Nice one, Robert, a sign of our stupid love of appearances, how we're diddled by fashion, media, etc. into thinking appearance is everything. Double masectomy is merely a scar of a terrible time in a woman's life, is not her, or what she's about… look past it, maybe even imagine her before… caress the scars for her, then explore other parts of her for her pleasure, and maybe yours.. ah. Mike

  3. Yes, took my breath away the first time I read it. We have a monthly Poetry Parley in Anchorage where people read their own work, in addition to established, well-known poets. He's one I hadn't read before…

  4. This particular poem brings up so many issues; he did a beautiful job of structuring the piece so it hits you like a blow to the gut. Now I'm interested in reading more of his work.

  5. Very poignant, thoughtful poetry. It's interesting that the composer was apparently much younger than the woman and yet was attracted to her qualities and talents in spite of her age. So he wasn't a completely shallow person. At first he wasn't concerned with her appearance, but learning about the double mastectomy caused him to turn away. At least he was honest about his feelings. I wonder if we all have a line we won't cross when it comes to being physically close to someone with scars or missing body parts…

  6. I appreciate the fact that he looked in her eyes and told her the truth. After all, she asked him not the other way around. I think he might have felt put on the spot and he didn't lie but knew himself well enough to know that going further with her might have caused them more pain in the long run…

    There are people I appreciate, admire and even love very much but I don't want to be intimate with them.

  7. I've never given it much thought. It's true, one is attracted to a person's beauty; that's the initial hook.
    The inverse: good-looking, shallow men aren't particularly interesting either.

  8. I've read this several times. I have no idea what it "means" – no idea what the bowl, the petals, the bees might "symbolize".

    But his innocence is clear – he didn't know what a double mastectomy meant. And her care for him is remarkable. Rather than allowing him to stumble into what could have been an experience that would scar him as she had been scarred, she allowed him to choose.

    I don't think it would be impossible at all to read this as a coming-of-age story. All of us have that first experience of feeling the radiance fade. Not all of us deal with it so honestly.

  9. Maybe his being scarred as she had (though they certainly can't be equivalent), he would have learned a very poignant lesson…one we don't often learn until much later in life. The writer, Jim Harrison, also writes well of radiance fading; at a certain time of life, we all understand that life is now made up of subsequent losses.

  10. Sorry but I see in the protagonist a shallow person and a metaphor and an apt one for his shallowness, in re the blossoms as the surface and beneath them the bees. So many men of my generation– boomer– are shallow: I hope you younger women are retraining them, because they need it. xxj

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Welcome to the creative playground of Image, Sculpture, Verse.  I live in a river town nestled in the Chugach Mountain Range of Southcentral Alaska.



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