Jill McDonough

Q&A for Keyhole and Mammogram Hair
April 23, 2019 McDonough Jill

Q&A for Keyhole


After my reading to high school students
there’s a Q&A.  They don’t know Q&As
are dumb, people asking What’s your process
blah blah blah. They say describe yourself
in one word.  I think for a second, say baller.  
Which is the right thing to say.  They want
to know what I was like in high school. I say
writing in my journal, hooking up with boys.
One wants to know the “best ones,” wants
their names. Asheville High School’s
Hottest Guys of 1987?  I answer everything:
When I don’t feel like writing? I watch Die Hard.
Ever been in a fight?  Almost! With Keyhole,
the name we gave the girl who bumped into me
outside a ladies room, wearing a keyhole blouse.
She said I’m sorry and I said YOU BETTER BE
FUCKING SORRY! When I came out
of the bathroom she was still there and I smiled,
delighted when she said HEY YOU WANT TO TAKE
THIS OUTSIDE?  Retain and reintegrate!  Keep a joke
going! I loved her, my funny new cleavage friend,
But this was the wrong thing to say.  I saw her girlfriends
behind her, saw that I was the only one in on the joke.
Eight inches taller than this clutch of girls in slutty
blouses. I didn’t want to fight them, their careful
makeup, said Oh my god you guys I am so sorry,
I thought we were joking.  They were confused,
embarrassed, relieved. I’m sorry, I said, to Keyhole.



Mammogram Hair


My friend at work says your hair looks erotic
and I don’t tell him it’s mammogram hair.  You
get undressed from the waist up, hug a robot,
hurt?  Your hair’s messed up when you get back
to work.  Not that erotic, really. You stand, embrace
metal pinching the shit out of you, pressing, machine
-handling, it flattens, it rolls.  You hold inches of cold
enamel in your suddenly sweaty hands, start to think
probably you do have cancer, everyone’s number’s up
before long.  That summer spent huffing asbestos,
ripping up your kitchen floor—mesothelioma, lung
cancer, breast.  Your heart beats into the cold metal,
into each breast served up like ham.  Then they say okay,
now you can go, and you spring out of there, bound
like a half snow day out.  I got dressed next to the older
women—still older, those women—grinning like
school’s out, drove to work alive, windows down to let
in the breeze. But when my friend at work says your hair
looks erotic, I don’t get into it. I just say thanks.

Three-time Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough is the recipient of Lannan, NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships.  Her most recent book is Reaper (Alice James, 2017); Here All Night, her fifth collection, is forthcoming from Alice James Books.  She teaches in the MFA program at UMass-Boston and offers College Reading and Writing in a Boston jail. Her website: jillmcdonough.com