Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Scarred Topography

Anne Herbert

Poet’s statement: Writing is my therapy.  It allows me to express difficult feelings that I had growing up but could never put into words until now.  Many of these feelings are centered around the scars left from my cleft lip and palate.  Writing has helped me to stop ignoring these, and other scars, and has forced me to examine them more closely and accept them as part of myself.  Writing also lets me share my story with friends and family in the way that seems most comfortable to me.This is my topography.

A scarred topography.

Green plant growing through dead soilFrom under my nose, a scar peeks out and travels to my lips.

Where I explain, “it’s from a cleft, a birth defect”.

My tongue runs over the roof of my mouth.

The ridge reveals another secret, but only to me.

I was born with cleft palate as well.

I look down at my hands.

A crescent moon, tucked into the crease of my middle finger, brings me back.

To carving coconuts at my friend’s house.

One slip of my knife and I run to her father, bloody finger outstretched.

“Wait for my wife to get home – she will clean it for you”

Dotting the knuckles on my right hand are remnants of a nasty fall I took

While running down 3rd street.

A downhill path from the park.

I was always going too fast.


Splayed across my left breast is another scar, both prominent and almost invisible.

The scar’s color blends with that of my skin, camouflaging the excision of

What my dermatologist called a “questionable mole”.

But its texture interrupts the milky, smooth surface of my chest.

Peering down at my left hip I glance at a surgically straight line,

Complete with a dot where the stitches were tied off.

I remember the two weeks in 2nd grade.

Sitting in front of the television watching ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and ‘Bewitched’.

Just having given my mouth some of my hip’s bone marrow.

Unable to run and jump and play outside.

Finally, right under my pinky toe sits a spongy, circular spot.

It’s what is left of a scrape from Mountain Creek Water Park.

After jumping the 15-foot cliff I hit the bottom of the pool with my foot.

Then I went back up and did it again.

Hit the same spot again.

This is my topography.

A scarred topography.



ANNE HERBERT graduated from Stanford University in June 2009 with a degree in Human Biology.  She is currently completing the Bryn Mawr post baccalaureate premedical program in Pennsylvania.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2010 – Volume 2, Issue 1

Spring 2011  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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