Volume 14 • Number 2 • Fall-Winter 2022-2023

Melissa Joplin Higley

Body Astronomy

The first ink in the galaxy of my body
was a constellation of bright blue dots,

a small dipper of pin pricks orbiting the planet
of my right breast, marking radiotherapy’s

territory. Radiation followed mantle mining,
core samples tested, confirming aberrations,

the area cleaned and left mainly intact,
the crust barely disturbed. A second diagnosis

brought a second constellation—a little dipper
orbiting the left breast, mirroring its twin, added

to the sky of survival, but mastectomy replaced
radiation, leaving the blue stars floating

helpless against the milky sky. Excavation
cleared the left planet entirely, inner and outer

core and mantle, even mammillary magma,
leaving only a smooth, blank crust, rounded

by an artificial mound, like a plastic dome.
An X scored where a nipple should be, the skin

flaps stitched together to mirror the twin,
the protrusion posted like a flag, territory

reclaimed, and only then did this new land
look familiar. Over the blank crust, a star artist

mixed pigments of dusty rose with traces
of turquoise and loam and stretched the skin tight

between his fingers, 3,000 punctures per minute
swirling into a new areola—a red dwarf fused

in the dermis, shining through the epidermis, its gentle
luminosity a new Polaris, guiding me back.

Melissa Joplin Higley is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Her poems have appeared in FERAL, MER, The Night Heron Barks, Writer’s Digest, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-facilitates the Poetry Craft Collective. She lives in Mamaroneck, NY with her husband and son. Visit her at: