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THE VISCOSITY OF HONEY
by Lori Tucker-Sullivan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
I have spent the wrong season hibernating
I walk in something the viscosity of honey.
I will not look at the calendar until September,
I make a deal with this disease, offering up a summer,
napping with shades drawn to invoke winter twilight.
I cannot seem to speak the words “New Year”
for fear of sounding too self-assured against this threat.
And I fear the retribution crossing that line might bring.
I rub his bald head, try to joke about his lost memory.
I shudder as I feel his thinning frame beside me in bed.
I buy him hats, and together
we watch baseball games on television.
All in an effort to stave off, or give into.
As weeks turn to a month, I’m no longer certain.
In return though, I demand:
I want us to awaken. To see rain turn to snow
Lori Tucker-Sullivan’s husband, Kevin, was diagnosed in 2008 with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Writing poetry helped, she says: “It was a release of a lot of anger over why this had been visited on our family. My husband was healthy and took great pains to be healthy. He was a marathon runner, ate the right foods, and didn't smoke. And yet.” He passed away in 2010.
Tucker-Sullivan, forty-nine, earned an MFA from Spalding University. She has had essays published in The Sun, Now & Then: The Magazine of Appalachian Studies, and in local and publishing trade publications. She works for a group of independent bookstores. Her son, Austin, twenty, is pursuing a career in dance; her daughter, Madeleine, fifteen, is a high-school student. They live in Dexter, Michigan, in a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse that she and Kevin renovated in the early years of their marriage.
NIGHT AT THE OPERA
by Marc Straus
Blood gushing, severed limbs flying everywhere.
won’t ever watch a horror film with me. I had mocked
Psycho at the Rialto), she said that Norman Bates
Doesn't anything ever scare you, Daddy? Lisa
Marc Straus is a mostly retired oncologist who has opened a contemporary art gallery, Marc Straus LLC, on New York’s Lower Eastside. He has three collections of poetry from TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press. Not God, the most recent book, is a play in verse that has been staged Off Broadway. The two characters are a woman hospitalized with cancer and her oncologist; various poems have since been added to the play, including the poem here.
Straus is the recipient of numerous poetry awards, including a residency at Yaddo and the Robert Penn Warren Award in the Humanities from Yale Medical School. His poems have appeared in many leading journals. He lives with his wife, Livia, whom he met on the first day of ninth grade. They have two children and five grandchildren.
I CAN TAKE IT
by Micah Chatterton
We had a trick for pain.
On the last day, his tumor damming
the nerves from brain to diaphragm,
his body was forgetting how to breathe.
He could not speak, except for hand signals—
a weak thumbs-up, a flipped bird, “eat,” “sleep,” “milk.”
As his chest began to still like sailcloth,
I held a Good Humor bar to his lips, read
Psalms and Dogen. I made up a story
of two heroes who were caught in a storm
and blown to opposite shores of a black ocean.
They never stopped loving each other, always
carrying pictures of the lost one in their minds,
always searching. After many years, they found
each other again on some warm, unmapped
coast, so they knew then they would always
find each other. I tried to prepare him, to comfort
him by being strong enough to let this happen.
I didn't want him to fear for me too.
“Imagine the pain coming from your heart,
up through your shoulder, down through
your arm, into your hand, and then my hand,
because they're the same,” I told him, gasping.
“Give me your pain, Ezra.”
He clasped my fingers as hard as he could.
“I can take it,” I lied.
Micah Chatterton’s ten-year-old son, Ezra, was diagnosed with stage-three thallamic astrocytoma in April 2007.
“His doctors expected him to only have three months before the cancer overtook his brain,” says Chatterton, thirty-two. “He lived eighteen months, until October 2008, through chemo and proton radiation, through many losses and setbacks. Yet, despite all of that, many of those months were the happiest of my life, when I got to see how truly impassioned Ezra was for living, and when I got to feel my greatest pride over the strong, resilient, gracious person he'd grown to be.”
Chatterton’s poems and essays have appeared in The Coachella Review, Mosaic, Naranjas y Nopales, and Main Channel Voices. He lives in Riverside, California, and works as an elementary school librarian, “trying to teach students to love words and paper as much as I do.” He and his wife are “happily expecting our first child together, my second son.”
by Don Colburn
It’s only life, my friend would say
to Eve in the Garden, he deadpanned,
and I laughed at his punch line, same
as in the old days. We ordered egg rolls,
asparagus and sweet-and-sour shrimp,
with chopsticks and tea. Like before.
Then, mid-sentence, Vic’s voice
gave out and he held up one hand
to say, don’t worry, this won’t be pretty
but give me a moment — and coughed
from way down, a slurry ruckus.
He gathered himself to finish
his thought, then caught a breath.
It’s only life, I blurted,
hating what I had just said,
except Vic raised his index finger
and smiled and nodded: But life.
Don Colburn, sixty-five, is a writer in Portland, Oregon. During a long career as a health reporter for newspapers including The Washington Post and The Oregonian, he interviewed hundreds of people touched by cancer. Among the many fine journalists he worked with at The Washington Post was Victor Cohn, once known as the dean of American newspaper science and medical writers. Cohn helped his colleagues keep things in perspective with wry humor, exemplified by his oft-repeated remark: “It's only life.”
Colburn has published one book of poems, As If Gravity Were a Theory, and two chapbooks: Another Way to Begin and Because You Might Not Remember. His many writing honors include the Discovery/The Nation Award, the Finishing Line Prize and the Cider Press Book Award. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. His latest manuscript is a sequence of poetic monologues called Tomorrow Too: The Brenda Monologues, based on the true story of a woman facing breast cancer and pregnancy at the same time.
by Tracy Rothschild Lynch
It isn’t enough to be handed your life,
Your breasts are gone.
The cancer is gone,
And you are
Holding this life,
A creative nonfiction writer and editor, Tracy Rothschild Lynch, forty-three, says she has always written poetry in secret. “A friend gave me The Cancer Poetry Project when I was in the thick of chemo. I couldn’t read it for quite a while — months, actually — because when I picked it up, even the very first poem I opened to spoke such beautiful truth to what I was going through and who I had become: a cancer patient, a cancer survivor. Poetry is a beautiful ‘secret code’ for those who have been affected by cancer — we can put together the words, form the memories of our own experiences, and take another step in our healing process simply by knowing that someone else gets it.”
Lynch says she wrote this poem, in part, because of the pressure cancer survivors put on themselves to learn something from their experience, to (as she says in the poem) “make something of it.”
Lynch lives in Glen Allen, Virginia, with her family. Husband Mike “took over all ‘jobs’ of a mommy during my illness with grace, humor, and tremendous support. Daughters Kylie and Cameron, both middle schoolers, taught me the most during my illness. Witnessing the experience through their eyes made me stronger, more determined, more passionate. The depth of their love for me is astounding and mutual.”
by Jadon Fimon
Today I got a sticky grabber from Perkins.
My green chameleon is so great; he can fly in my imagination.
I swing it around like a helicopter blade.
I sling my sticky grabber onto my mom.
Jadon Fimon, now seven, was only three when his mother, Michelle, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was an especially difficult period for both of them that year: While Michelle was losing her breasts and hair, Jadon was being tested for autism. Although the school district labeled him with both Asperger’s and ADHD, the tests also revealed that he’s academically gifted. Jadon now receives his education via an online public-school format at home, allowing him to focus his talents and thrive, especially in the creative arts.
In kindergarten, Jadon won the Richard Eberhart Poetry Contest for “The Stormy Night,” and he gave his first public poetry reading at age five, when he also wrote “Gone.” (His mother’s poem, “Morning Mastectomy,” also appears in The Cancer Poetry Project 2.) Jadon, his mom, and the sticky grabber make their home in southern Minnesota, where they all celebrate the fact that Mommy’s cancer is gone.
SHAVING OUR HEADS
by Gail Rudd Entrekin
I say I’ll shave my head, become a moon-
when your hair falls out in tufts on the pillowcase
When we shave our hair, our skin-covered skulls,
their lumps and bumps and funny spots, no help
heads that haven’t been seen by anyone
our fathers palmed our noggins
“If you’ve never shaved your head, I recommend it,” says Gail Rudd Entrekin, sixty-four, who shaved hers in solidarity and support of her husband. “People look at you differently. It’s interesting to be perceived in a whole new way, and it’s fascinating and freeing to see your simple face, uncluttered by the distractions of hair.”
Her husband, Charles (whose poem, “What Remains,” also appears in The Cancer Poetry Project), was diagnosed with incurable (but remissible) chronic lymphocytic leukemia in February 2007. “Most days we remember to be mindful and to savor every moment of our lives,” she says.
“Shaving Our Heads” appears in Entrekin’s newest book of poems, Rearrangement of the Invisible (Poetic Matrix Press, 2012). She and her husband are poets, editors and former teachers of creative writing and English literature. They are also publishers of Hip Pocket Press, and she is the editor of the online environmental literary magazine, Canary. All of their five grown children live nearby in San Francisco’s lovely East Bay.
POSTED NOTICE FOR PILEATED WOODPECKER
by Laura L. Snyder
Every day between 10 and 2 p.m.
and tap, tap, tap. I have chosen
Laura L. Snyder, sixty-one, writes poetry about cancer to “turn the unbearable into art.” This poem, previously published in Classifieds: Anthology of Prose Poems (Equinox Publishing), sings with quirky humor and a love of the natural world.
In 2012, Snyder had published two chapbooks: Winged (Flutter Press) and Witness (Willet Press). Other recent works by Snyder can be found in Baseball Bard, Switched-on Gutenberg, Fault Lines, and Windfall. Her work is also included in three new anthologies: Hot Summer Nights, From Glory to Glory, and Cradle Songs.
Snyder is retired, but now her work is writing poetry, canning, and gardening. She has “three children, five ‘grands,’ and a tuxedo cat named Baker who brings me dead rats to inspect.” She lives in Seattle “but would rather live in the wilds in a cabin and cook on an old wood stove.”
by Samantha Albert
Vegetables that I can’t identify,
but which make me feel I am in a foreign, tropical land.
These plants, growing so fervently from among the grit,
growing up, down, and out
to take advantage of every inch of space,
make me feel alive and supremely optimistic
as I leave Chinatown behind
and climb the four flights of stairs to my inevitable appointment.
Samantha Albert, forty-five, was diagnosed with amyloidosis — a “close cousin to multiple myeloma,” she says, in 2000. She underwent a stem cell transplant that year and, today, continues a weekly treatment with a new smart drug. “No cure, per se, but the disease is controlled.”
Why write about cancer? “What better way to say the unsayable?” she asks. “How better than poetry to capture those feelings that are sliding around inside my head that can't seem to flow through normal conversation. Poetry opens doors for those thoughts to come tumbling out in a way that captures their essence.”
Albert has a poem published in Survivor's Review; her other publishing credits include essays in The Globe and Mail and Edible Toronto. She lives in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, son, and two pet rats.
VALLEYS AND LILIES
by Nancy M. Fitzgerald
Say our spouses died the
The lilies of the valley
Say I met you
Say you said, “I’ll teach
Say my body aching from
Say I lay my head on your
chest and wept
Your cheeks wept upon my breast
Say we were healing partners.
Say all this is true
Nancy Madison Fitzgerald, seventy, a retired creative writing professor, was forty-two when her husband, Jack, died of bladder cancer. She met Jerry, her husband of twenty-seven years, shortly after their spouses died and they became “healing partners.” She wrote this poem during that healing time. They did their best to finish raising their six children and now live in Northport, Michigan, in the summer and Tucson, Arizona, in the winter. “Reading, teaching and writing poetry has been my life,” says Fitzgerald. “Over and over again, reading poetry has awakened me, and writing poetry has helped me find my way.” Her new book of poetry, Take a Twig, was published in January 2013.