“Are your nipples always inverted?” she asks me, as she helps me lower the hospital gown to my waist and gets her first look at what she’ll be working with during our time together.
“Do you think it might look better on a slight angle?” I ask her, as she shows me the final design and I get my first look at what she’ll be working with during our time together.
The voluptuous Black woman, her face dominated by a playful smile, stands nude before the large, full length mirror. In each hand she holds one of her full, round breasts, boastfully lifting them up closer to the mirror’s reflection.
Watcha gonna do with all that junk
All that junk inside your trunk
I’ma get get get get you drunk
Get you love drunk off my hump
“No, I wear a minimizing bra,” I explain. “Keeps everything sucked in. Give them a minute to adjust to the release.”
She laughs and then gently asks me to take a few steps forward, explaining that we’ll start with the right, but eventually take images of both of my breasts to allow for comparison.
“I’m so excited about where I’m getting this,” I gush, as she explains to me how I should arrange myself on the table in front of her to give her the best access to my right side between my waist and bra line.
“I never would have chosen this spot before,” I elaborate to my friend SD, who sits opposite us. She’s joined me for moral support, and to carry out a fact-finding mission in relation to her own tattoo plans.
“It shows the benefits of all the work you’ve done . . .”
“Up here,” I say, pointing to my head, at the same time as SD completes the sentence she began with “at the gym.”
“Everything Kerry James Marshall does in his artwork is intentional.” The voice of the guide who led the tour I went on earlier that afternoon echoes in my head as I stand staring at the full, black breasts before me.
I notice the clothes strewn around her feet and wonder if they are options for the upcoming day’s outfit, or newly minted laundry (thrown to the side after having spent the day draped around her ripe curves).
Did some fly man (or woman?) compliment her on her figure as she wore them?
Is this she, celebrating the notice?
Power poses as she gets ready to bring her beauty into the world.
The possibilities are many.
My love my love my love my love
You love my lady lumps
My hump my hump my hump
My humps they got you
The pain as the machine slowly presses down upon my right breast is neither as bad as some told me to expect, nor as easy to bear as I hoped it might be.
“Stop breathing,” she orders gently, as the required image is captured.
To keep me still, or distract me from the pain?
I don’t ask.
I slowly exhale the breath I’ve been holding as she raises the machine from my right side for a moment.
“Why does that one spot hurt so ‘effin much?” I ask rhetorically, as SD looks on with concern.
The buzz of the machine starts again almost immediately.
I take a deep breath and hope that maybe that last bit was her final pass over the lower, right wing of the dragonfly she is slowly inking onto my right ribcage.
I don’t ask.
Kerry James Marshall paints Black people in black. As in actual black. A colour no one actually is. A construction.
Her smile looks like mine.
So do her breasts.
My lovely lady lumps my lovely lady lumps
In the back and in the front
My loving got you
Postscript . . .
- On August 16 I found a lump in my left breast. My doctor assured me it had the characteristics of a benign cyst, but she ordered a mammogram and ultrasound to be certain, and because I have a history of breast cancer in my family. And am over 35. The Black Eyed Peas’ song “My Humps” has been stuck in my head pretty much since this happened. .
- On the afternoon of August 26, I had my first mammogram.
- On the afternoon of August 27, I got a tattoo on my right ribcage that I’ve been planning for some time. A dragonfly. Symbolic of transformation, insight, flight. That this date booked months earlier and the mammogram ended up landing at the exact same time as each other, collectively immersing me in deep thoughts about my body, its health, its beauty, and the complex relationship I have as a woman, and particularly as a curvaceous woman of colour, with my “lovely lady lumps,” kind of blew my mind a little.
- On the afternoon of August 30, I got an email from my doctor, confirming I had nothing to worry about. The mammo and ultrasound were clear.
- This past weekend I toured the Kerry James Marshall exhibit a the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. That this artist entered my life at at time when I’ve already been so deeply immersed in deep thoughts about my body, its health, its beauty, and the complex relationship I have as a woman, and particularly as a curvaceous woman of colour, with my . . . yeh. This piece had to be written.