Someone in the comment thread to the last post mentioned Deena Metzger as another woman who writes powerfully about justice. I second that recommendation, and thought I’d take this opportunity to add a few more words about her.
As I write this, I’m looking at a poster of Metzger that hangs on the wall of my office. In this photo (taken by Hella Hamid), Metzger stands topless, one-breasted, her arms thrown open wide, and her smiling face turned toward the sun. Where her right breast used to be there is now is a tattoo of a branch, winding around the scar.
I first came across this poster in a women’s bookstore, and as the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I was moved by its reclamation – celebration, even – of a body that others might see as mutilated by cancer. She rejects what the surgery has inscribed on her body and, in effect, rewrites her scar from a sign of disease into a symbol of life.
Later, I discovered Metzger’s writing about her cancer experience and the transformation it inspired in her, as she embarked on a lifelong exploration of the politics of illness and healing. She writes, “These diseases which afflict us out of season are sociological, political, psychological, and spiritual events…Understanding cancer, for example, as imperialistic has helped me see the relationship between the personal and the political. So, illness, as it afflicts us and breaks us down, also enlightens us and presents the means to heal far more than it has undermined.”
This image has become known as “The Warrior,” since Metzger writes, “…I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound/On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.” There’s no lack of military language in any discussion of cancer (think “the war on cancer”), but Metzger helps to reframe this metaphor to de-emphasize its violence and instead highlight the power of bodies and of life.
I also love thinking of our bodies as books on which we write. How might this idea change how we experience and treat our bodies, and also change how we think about the act of writing and its impact on the world and ourselves?