Shawna Thompson

In the basement of the
University Medical Center
the million dollar machines
await, silent and nightmarish.

From early morning to late evening
bodies slide in—then out—
like loaves of bread into an oven.
Dressed in hospital gowns,
the cancer-ridden,
bide our time
as the nurses call us
one by one.

When it is my turn,
they lay me upon a sliding table
arranging my body
in accordance with minute tattoos.
Three small blue dots spaced
across my flat chest
show them where
to aim the “light.”
The thick, heavy “camera”
—mounted against the wall
on a circular track—
rotates until it hovers above me.
The nurses depart.

Alone, staring at the ceiling,
I listen to the quiet hums and clicks
of the terrible machinery.
My head in a brace,
a triangular pillow tucked
under my knees, and
my shoes rubber-banded together,
three long minutes pass
as I lie still as a rock.
Then the nurses return
and slide me out.

In the dressing room
I slather on Radiagel –
cooling the tender flesh.
Each invisible treatment
adds to my inevitable “sunburn.”

Thirty days and thirty times
I laid beneath the machine.
The radiated patch,
on the right side of my chest
in the shape of California,
finally blistered then peeled.
I emerged from hell’s basement.
fatigued, but alive.