Portrait of E. as St. Thérèse of Lisieux

by Susan L. Miller

At lunch E. pulls aside her hair to show me
two blue dots tattooed just under her jaws,

on the sides of her throat. For radiation,
she says, the tattoos helped the techs

to line up the protective plates
in the same place every time. She felt

a lump in her neck one day, and the next,
real bad news. The radiation burned

so much that every minute in treatment
she called out from her mind, like a child,

St. Thérèse, heal me whole. Years later,
she still can’t eat spices, tannins; even bubbles

in champagne abrade her fragile tongue. But
she is alive. One day she tells me, “I watched

the train pull in, stop, pull away, and realized
that for years I have been living in the moment,

uninterested in visiting the past, afraid
to hope for any future.” Thérèse too

lived through a season of disbelief
in heaven, hiding behind her bed

in hollow prayer while the other nuns
thought her the most pious. It passed.

Good Friday, in the final year of her life,
when her own blood rose to her lips

for the first time, she rejoiced; she knew
that Christ had sent her a sign

of her end, in commemoration of his.
Riding to meet E. again, I watch the faces

on the subway and wonder how anyone
learns to face it. And yet

when we meet uptown to go to Mass,
E. greets me with “Look what I found!”

and hands me a Crayola printed Dark Rose
on its wrapper. “Isn’t that a message?” I ask.