Leila Chatti

If you had asked me, thirteen, what I wanted
to be one day, I wouldn’t have said it.
I wanted, for a long time, to be anything
but myself, knew that a soon-to-be
woman was the second worst thing
in the world after a woman, full
stop, and I was heading there fast.
I could see it, my breasts rudely
nudging into view, their snug caps
like the knit caps of infants, rosy-
colored as a tongue. And how
terrifying, the thought of a mouth there,
rooting, and what could be drawn
from me that I didn’t need—what else
skulked in me unseen, stirring in secret
vats with milk yet untapped, and blood,
the strange, new wellspring? I was just beginning
to understand the possibilities, my body’s
elusive, independent workings, machineries
chugging away in dark chambers
not just left to but simply
their own devices, unknowable and sovereign.
What I wanted, always, to be:
in control. And I knew this was
impossible, just as I knew, even then, that
to be a mother was to be the only
permissible form of a woman, the begrudging
exception to the rule of our worth-

So if you asked me again,
twenty-three, I’d tell you the worst thing
you could be is not a woman but
barren, the industry shut down and the parts
missing, malformed. And I’d tell you the shame of it:
the feminine failure, its ache
a reminder—at the center the tumor
ballooning, like hope.

Photo by Maan Limburg on Unsplash

litany while


Litany While Reading Scripture in the Gynecologic Oncology Waiting Room
Leila Chatti

And God said, let there be blood

And God said, flood

And God said, good

is a woman with fruit

in her womb and not

in her hand

And God said, sin

And God did not say, forgive

And God said, I will make a stormy wind

And God said, son, a breath


And God said, highly favored

And God said, condemned

And God said, I will blot out man

whom I have created, for I am sorry

that I have made them

And God said, listen

And sunk a boy

in her like a stone