Noe Valley Voice October 2003

A Sign

Poems by Mercilee Jenkins

So I'm walking along in my neighborhood

and I see this sign printed on the sidewalk

in bold block letters:


What could that mean?

Someone thinks we're thinking

about sex too much?

But who? And why?

Is it here because I live in the Castro

and queers are supposed to think

about sex all the time?

Or is this command printed all over San Francisco?

Did some Bible-thumping-right-winger

write this?

Sinners Be Saved

Stop Thinking about Sex!

Or was someone reading my mind?

I have been thinking about sex lately

and enjoying it.

How nice to think that the author

is talking to me, personally.

I am guilty.

Of course, the sentence makes you do

what it's telling you not to do.

Maybe it means

stop thinking about sex

and do something.


First call the cat

very gently

or better yet wait

until she comes to you.

As she settles in your lap

notice your breathing

while you stroke her fur

and caress her softness,

listen to her purring

and join your breath with hers.

A cat does not need to be taught

how to relax.

Learn from her.

See how she half closes her eyes

gazing at nothing in particular

but noticing everything.

Do the same.

Remember your breathing.

Do thoughts of mice come to her

and does she bat them away

when she blinks?

Do the same.

Regard all the ideas and

familiar concerns that float

through your head

as nothing you need

to chase after right now.

Later you can decide.

You can choose

which ones are keepers

and just when to let go.

Like a cat with her prey

when she grows tired of it

she walks away

licking herself unconcerned.

You can always go back

for those troubles on your


But for now just stretch out

your paws and yawn.

Curl up with your cat

like a long-lost litter mate.

Everything else can wait

while you breathe.


Call all your friends and ask them to help you.

Get mad as hell and rage at the medical industrial establishment

for not taking better care of you.

Blame the government for not taking better care of all women

and this planet.

If someone says,

What did you do to get this?

Say, I was born after World War II

during the time of above-ground nuclear testing.

All my life, I drank the water and breathed the air

that has been polluted by industry.

I worked too hard for the money I needed to live

and my heart has been broken because too many of my friends

have died of AIDS.

And no, breast cancer doesn't run in my family

but it's running like crazy through the family of woman.

Thirty years ago it was 1 in 20,

now it's 1 in 8.

But we're told there's no cause for concern.

Maybe it's our diet

we should eat less fat

until we disappear

no breasts to speak of

no flesh to nourish this disease.

If someone gives you the book

Love, Medicine and Miracles

(and they will)

first throw it across the room

because you don't want to hear about

how you are responsible for your own healing.

Then pick it up and read it

and find out the author thinks it's good to be a troublesome patient

and realize you are well on your way.

Do whatever you need to do

to make yourself feel whole again:

walk on the beach,

go dancing,

prune the garden with a fury,

have secret ceremonies by moonlight with witchy friends,

or rent a lot of old movies and cry as much as you can.

Go to the doctor.

When he pulls the drain out of your side

get a good look at your mastectomy scar,

then go out and get drunk.

When your doctor surprises you with the news

that now you are going to have chemotherapy,

go home

and ask your partner to cut off all your hair

because you're going to lose it anyway.

If the diagnosis doesn't kill you,

the cure sure feels like it will.

Tell the newspapers to ban all lingerie ads

since they only make you jealous

of women with two breasts of any size.

Tell your doctors and your well-meaning friends

you are not cheered up by the idea

that now you can get perfect fake breasts

to replace your middle-aged natural ones

which you like just fine, thank-you-very-much

because they respond to sexual stimulation

and fake ones don't.

Funny we never seem to talk about that.

And you will find out things you don't want to know

like who your real friends are,

the ones who offer to help and mean it.

Or what your love relationship is all about.

Fifty percent of relationships break up

and not because you are abandoned

but because you can no longer afford to love people

who don't nurture you.

Find out how spiritual you really are.

Don't be afraid to pray

and ask whoever is "in"

as you see it--that great being in the sky--

to lift you up to where you belong

and carry you on a dove's breath

away from all this

'cause you certainly don't belong here.

And tell yourself you love yourself

even if you don't mean it.

Tell yourself that every day

until you do.

That won't make up for the loss

but it will take you to

the next person you're going to be:

wiser, more beautiful,

capable of kicking ass and taking prisoners

And when they call you a

"Cancer Survivor"

tell them no

you're much more than that.

You're a whole woman inside out.

You're a self-made woman

and you celebrate life

every time you think of it

and you feel lucky

and you bless your body and honor those who have died

because that's what eventually happens to one out of three of us.

So you tell that person

that it's about so much more than surviving.

It's about defining yourself by new rules

even if you don't know

how it's all going to end.

Mercilee Jenkins is a teacher, playwright, poet, and performer. She lives in the Castro and is an avid reader of the Noe Valley Voice. Two of her poems, "A Sign" and "What to Do When You Find Out You Have Breast Cancer," are part of a solo performance piece, Menopause & Desire, which she performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival last year. The entire script will be published in Text and Performance Quarterly in 2004. Jenkins' latest play, She Rises Like a Building to the Sky, about the founding of the San Francisco Women's Building, will be produced next year as part of the Women's Building's 25th anniversary celebration.