[ToC]

 

ACTA SANTORUM

Lisa Nicholas-Ritscher

She thought she felt well enough to drive herself to the cosmetic surgeon, on a Vicodin she snapped in half. She saved the other half for later, for after. She was showered and citrus-smelling, lucid, feeling for her keys in the lightness of her bag.

The part of the surgeon would be played by a sexy tennis player with adorably spiked hair. In the movie, she would lay her head on his warm, sand-dune chest, thumbing the nipple on his left pec.

In the stage version, she had the humiliating thrill of the full frontal, of opening her robe and baring her own chest, her left breast a persimmon the color of honey. The other side was an oblique thin seam, torn evenly, like cardstock, from underarm to heart. The tennis player set up his tripod, looking at his viewfinder and not at her.

The part of the nurse was played by a dusty brick of a woman, an edifice of Legos under scrubs, whose own breasts were an impressive shelf. They would be good for resting a bowl of soup on. Or popcorn, during the movie.

The role of gutsy girl with chutzpah was played by herself.

*

A Brief History of the Depiction of Saint Anthony in Folk Verse

Legend has it that a thieving novice in the monastery at Padua stole a valuable Psalter, beloved of St. Anthony. Anthony, with his fervent prayers, conjured a hideous ax-wielding demon and scared the wayward thief into returning the Psalter.

After Anthony's canonization, the faithful began asking his intercession to recover their lost valuables. Folk rhymes include:

The sea obeys and fetters break
And lifeless limbs thou dost restore
While treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.

And:

Saint Anthony, Anthony, please look around.
Something is lost and must be found.

*

It was time for her close-up, her photo shoot. It was time to be calipered. The Lego brick lady and the surgeon/tennis player were professional and kind. In the movie, the surgeon falls in love with her naked beauty, for she is more beautiful now with her right arm folded like a bird's wing over her scar. In the movie, they make love; he worships her new bird body with the one pink gumdrop and the ginger triangle. He is passionate, with a talented tongue.

"The benefit of having small breasts," says the surgeon played by the tennis player, "is that you don't have to deal with saggage."

He was trying to be chivalrous to the lone, perky little boob, so much like a fried egg on a coat hook.

"You're so thin; I don't think you're a good candidate for a trans-flap. Although, we might find enough for one small breast here." He comes close and gently measures her little pooch with the calipers.

In the stage version, she jokes and clowns:

"Yeah, why can't we get cancer of the muffintop? Free tummy tucks for all!"

And:

"What did the right boob say to the left boob?

(pause)

You're my breast friend."

The brick lady smiles and says sadly, "Good girl."

*

A Brief History of the Depiction of Saint Agatha in Art

Agatha of Sicily, the patron saint of bell-founders and bakers, was tortured to death for her purity of faith.

She is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a plate.

*

Turns out, though she is photographed, she is the only one looking at herself at all. She is transparent like an x-ray plate, like the jellyfish medusa.

She wakes up on a Monday evening, swaddled in gauze from neck to navel, and prays to St. Anthony, Anthony, please look around. From her side grows a string of acrylic Christmas bulbs, some full of ruby liquid, some full of amber liquid. In the movie, the surgeon brings her flowers and caresses her hair, nuzzles her ear. In the stage version, the surgeon also comes in and checks her tangled string of lights, fiddling and unwinding, but he soon exits for the tennis courts.

The scene always closes the same, with the brick lady and herself alone in the dark, the string of liquid lights, winking in the dim.

 

 

 

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This piece came about as a sort of double germ cell. One germ was in coming to terms (or actually my own failure in finding terms) with a personal history of cancer and amputation as a young person, and the ways we are forced to play a role and project a public persona when we are ill.

The second germ was provided by my friend Anca. Our common interest in ekphrastic writings, and my interest in depictions of Christian martyrs in Western art, a very public rendering of private suffering. [Here] is one of the prompts she brings for the Ploughshares blog. And [here] is the picture of St. Agatha that inspired the piece.