She could barely move her head
the cancer climbed her spine
reaching upward, clutching vertebrae
reaching out, tendrils grasping
tearing fragile organs.
She would cry, but that would be
an admission of defeat,
a welcome to death.
I cried out for her,
entreated our God
that she might stand by her sons
when they uttered the ancient words,
by her daughter, adjusting
the white lace veil,
but he would not answer,
drawn into catatonia, seeing
severed limbs of children
littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life
as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in
Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006
My sister only wanted a horse
an my parents thought they could solve
that dilemma with a pony at her fifth birthday party
where she would get all the extra rides,
her friends and playmates be damned.
Like most great parental plans,
this one was doomed to failure,
and failure marched front and center
as they learned from the pony was loaded
back into the trailer and my sister
tried to tie herself to the trailer
with ribbon from her gift wrap.
She was never good with knots,
even when she died at 52, the cancer
having ravaged her one organ at a time,
but even in her waning days, she
whine to our mother that all she ever wanted
was a horse, then winked at me, staring
around her hospital room, since we both knew
there was a pony in there somewhere.
The lake arrives each morning, just before she opens her eyes. She’s tried to catch it, getting up earlier or later but it was just lapping the shore outside her window each time she first gazed at it. Once she tried to stay up all night, and it clung to the shore despite its desire to slip away, but she was certain it did when her eyes fell closed a little after 3 a.m. She got up at the usual time, and it slid in just ahead of her. All that day it seemed quieter, almost restive, as if, like her, lacking the energy that curtailed sleep might have provided.
She remembered her grandmother saying that only once in her years along the lake did she ever catch it just coming in around the point. That was a magical day, never repeated, but it bound grandmother to the lake in a way few could understand. She kept asking her grandma to tell the story again, but like that day, she’d just tell it once and only smile when asked to repeat it. She never asked anyone else — she learned as a child of the scorn she would face if she did. She given up Santa and the tooth fairy, but this was real, she could touch it or even take it home in cups or buckets, though she smiled, it always slipped away sooner or later.
She knew from the doctor’s face the chemo hadn’t worked. She could feel it failing even as they pumped into her. It was okay, she wanted to tell him, but it wasn’t and they both knew it. They tried, won some battles, lost others, but in the end they both knew who would win that war.
This morning the lake never arrived, never touch the shore and the house was shrouded in silence. Continue Reading