A Story about the Body

Hass, Robert

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Sep-15-1997


This short prose poem (a single paragraph) concisely tells a powerful story. A composer at an artist's colony believes he has fallen in love with a woman of almost sixty, a Japanese painter. One night, late, at her door, she acknowledges their mutual desire, but warns him that she has had a double mastectomy. He leaves her, apologizing. In the morning he finds that she has left a bowl on his doorstep, filled with dead bees covered by a layer of rose petals.


In the painter's eloquent gift, Hass captures the complexity of the relationship between sexuality and illness, especially when body image is so profoundly affected as it is by mastectomy. The image of petals and bees is an ambiguous one, leading the reader (or class, and it can work extremely well in class discussion) to work out the message it carries. The man's selfish reaction to the woman's body can be reflected in the ominous mass of dead insects only thinly concealed by his superficial sexual attraction, but it seems more likely that the gift is a forgiving one, and a kind of lesson about "the body," as the title suggests.

Perhaps it is a warning: the deceptive appearance of health only temporarily covers the horror of what can go wrong with the body (and the petals themselves will quickly turn brown and decay). Or perhaps the surface layer of physical appearance, whether beauty or deformity, protects a more complex interior reality, one that is dangerous, for bees sting, fragile, for they have died, and beautiful in a much more challenging and difficult and long-lasting way than the obvious surface. These are only a few of many insights this short but very rich "story" offers.

Primary Source

Articulations: The Body and Illness in Poetry


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa




John Mukand