Shilo Niziolek

The Mouth of the River

Three days of bleeding is no big deal except when you know that you’re dying. Scratch that. Feel that you’re dying. But it’s only been three days and four biopsies ago and the phone hasn’t rung because, “closer to 7 days,” they said when they were violating you on the table, but they don’t call it violating they call it medical procedure that you signed off on after they shoved lidocaine cotton balls up your yoo-hoo and you pushed up the table and away. They call it a bed, but you know better, it’s a table and it might as well be stainless steel and they might as well be pulling your body naked and frigid out of a cooler with the other bodies.

And your sister made you a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich afterwards that she also made for her kids like you’re a kid who needs taken care of because you are because you might have cervical cancer. You’ve been sick for 15 years and you’re only 30 but it sometimes feels like 68.

The doctor says, you’ll feel a pinch. She says it after the pinch. “I’m going to hurt you,” they say after already hurting you. Why can’t anyone be upfront about the way bodies betray. Not just my own, but also yours and yours and yours and yours and the first boy I loved who tore me apart. The doctor says the vestibulitis (vaginal pain) might be caused from sexual trauma and I don’t say a word but when they’ve got the speculum up there and they’re taking samples of my body from my body I breathe like I’m in labor. But that can’t be right because labor is something people do that gives them babies but when I was twenty a fallopian tube exploded, and I almost died and since then labor isn’t something I do. What I do do is sit on the couch and think about dying and watch the birds and I don’t have sex because it hurts so bad, but I think about having sex as if sex is something I can do.

I tell me partner while driving in the car about the procedure and how the doctor says the pain is in the opening of me, the mouth of the river, and it might be caused because of what someone I loved did to me repeatedly which is to say: he’d be high and he’d fuck me for hours and hour because he couldn’t get off and I’d be dry and I’d be swollen and I’d be crying and I’d be so exhausted I couldn’t hold my body weight up anymore and he’d eventually pull out and shove my body over like a piece of trash, like it’s my body’s fault that his body wouldn’t let him and then eventually when he’d calm down we’d start again and I’d try not to cry out in pain and try to let my body absorb his body. And my partner listens to me say, “it might be caused from sexual trauma,” though I don’t elaborate and then he begins telling me about a guy who was driving like a psycho and cut around him in the bike lane to get in front of him and then slammed on his breaks. And he’s not telling me like it’s a comparison but because he’s uncomfortable with what I’m telling him and grown men who don’t abuse women’s bodies can’t think, let alone talk about the abuse of women’s bodies. And while he’s telling me this, I’m thinking about that
boy I loved who used to follow me home, wait in the baseball field below my house til everyone was gone, without me knowing. How a friend said, “I used to chase homeboy out of the field in the middle of the night while he was stalking you.”

And I think about being on that table. But you can’t say this to anyone. In bed I tell my partner “I wish I could talk to you about this stuff” and he says “talk” And we lay there in silence until I eventually hear his light snoring. And I’m back on the table and the doctor says, “Because of the significant cell growth we’re most likely going to have to do the LEEP procedure and because you don’t tolerate this well, we will put you under and do it in surgery.”

LEAP, and I think I’m a frog and I think I can just jump off the table, off the bed, hop on out of here when it’s done. Hop, hop, hop. And my mom said, says, said, “When I was 32, they did the LEEP without any anesthetics or pain meds or lidocaine, right there in the GYNO’s office because it was the 90’s and Wyoming. And then I went to the grocery store and to a BBQ and to your brother’s baseball game and then white-water rafting and then I hemorrhaged.”

“Just a pinch,” the doctor says. I check for hemorrhaging. But I think the blood is like tears and the ones that I haven’t cried and the ones that I have, and the tears might go on forever, because it’s the mouth of the river down there and the rivers ran red with blood and the ocean could be dying, might be dying. I swear I read something about coral reefs, but each time I think about it I feel myself again, on that table, and she keeps trying to pull the speculum out: “Every time I move it a little you start gushing again” And I think, no surprise, but I don’t say a word because I keep doing my labor breaths like the movies taught me.

I’m trying to visualize myself by a river, but I am the river and eventually I turned from you, as if this poem were about anyone but me. I wanted to disassociate, to shove it away, and it was you on the table but now it’s me even though I’m at home on the couch and she pulls it out and I close my legs under the sheet ghost of a cover they gave me. Silent tears stream down my face.

But is it from the possibility of cancer? Or the violation? Or the realization that someone I loved did me so dirty, which I already knew, fucked me so wrong, that now everything near the mouth is a violation and when I say mouth I mean vagina. I mean opening. I mean place where a baby will never come from and that part isn’t his fault it’s my body’s fault, but it feels a little bit like a sick joke that someone played on me.

“Do you want a tissue?” she holds out a box “For my eyes or my vagina?” I laugh, but its dark and she sees it’s dark even though the florescent lights beat down. “For both,” she says, “for both.” And then she leaves the room. My butt is naked on the table-bed and the silent tears become full raking sobs and I don’t even know what I’m crying about but two minutes later when I dress and open the office door, and the nurse aid who was in the room hearing me labor breathe looks at me, must have heard me bawling through the wall, with such knowing that sitting here thinking about it could make a grown woman cry. “How do I get out of here?” I whisper and she points to an exit sign, but I still feel turned around, upside down, down, down, down, scoot your butt down to the end of the table please.

And now my tea is cold and it’s still about four days til the phone will be ringing, and I’m still bleeding but I know what they will say, just like I knew when I was waiting for the phone call from the pap that came a week later when I was in a vintage clothing store and the doctor said, “high grade cell lesions” and I nodded along, yes yes, like I knew all along. There’s a procedure in my future, but when I’m there it doesn’t feel like a violation it feels like an empty dream. We could all use an empty dream. And when I wake up, I’ll say something like, “My body is a real fun home” Like I told the doctor at the pap where she found the cell lesions when I lay splayed on the table like I am the mouth of the Columbia River.

I am the mouth.

But I don’t tell you this. I don’t tell any of you this. I say, “I might have cancer, but it’s fine. I’m okay, everything is okay.” I’m watching a squirrel eat a fallen apple from the apple tree in a pile of leaves and there’s a black-capped chickadee at the bird feeder and I’m ghosting my trauma even as December nears and the heater is blasting a quiet humming song.

Shilo Niziolek’s CNF manuscript Fever was first runner-up and honorable mention in Red Hen Press’s Quill Prose Prize. Her work has appeared in [PANK], Entropy, HerStry, among others, and is forthcoming in Juked, Pork Belly Press, and Subjectiv. Shilo holds an MFA from New England College and has twice been awarded artist residencies with the Spring Creek Trillium Project on Shotpouch Lands.

Malasaña | Hudson, NY| Cargo Collective | Portland, ME | 2021