Niina Pollari on "Do You Feel Tenderness"
Do You Feel TendernessWhen I went to the doctor
I forgot to take off my bra
She said "Oh! I'm sorry, I need to check
Your breast tissue"
Yes, I said, I'm so sorry
I had a hard time unclasping the hooks and eyes
I didn't look at the doctor, who was a new lady doctor
I met ten minutes before, at the start of my appointment
Finally I took off my bra
So many wolves fell out
In the roaring of the wolves the doctor said "Do you feel tenderness"
She was touching me
No, I said, not mostly
She said "You have very fibrous breast tissue I would not be surprised
If you felt tenderness during your period"
And the wolves ran around the table like a dog pack
Screaming and howling
In that little room
I said I don't have a period, then we barely locked eyes, the end
On "Do You Feel Tenderness"
When I was a young kid, I had to take a school physical. My mother came in with me, and the errand was supposed to be quick, but I refused to undress. The doctor and my mother didn't force me to do anything, but I remember them both asking me why I wasn't doing it, and what was wrong, and I remember not being able to answer. It was a kind of dissociation. They continued to ask me questions, and after what felt like a very long time (children exaggerate, I know; I have no way of knowing how long it was), I took all my clothes off without acknowledging to them that something had changed.
The question in this poem — "Do you feel tenderness?" — is one that a real person asked me during a real examination. And as a question it's so sweet and unexpectedly personal, if you consider what the words mean outside of the confines of the medical routine. Anyway, something strange happens to the body when you have to take off your clothes in an unexpected setting. You feel lit up, and the air feels like the flat part of a stingray brushing you all over, and if you're in a place with no mirrors, like a doctor's office, you feel a kind of unverifiable borderlessness. If at that point the other person makes it personal, you feel like you could fall apart.