Prayer for Tomorrow

Monday morning, 9:30
your life will change
—from Prayer for Tomorrow, the first poem of my chapbook, One Step: prayers and curses.

On the 12th of this month it will be exactly one year ago. I was at work when the call came informing me that my wife’s test results were positive for breast cancer. It was a sucker punch to the gut. Breathing, heart rate, balance, everything is thrown off kilter. The brain becomes an inert blob of jelly sitting in the skull. One staggers off dazed. In that moment I did not make a conscious distinction between my wife and myself. We were both struck as one. This unspeakable thing, this lightning strike out of nowhere had happened to us.

But the tumor was not inside me. It was inside her. It was large and in the doctor’s own words, “aggressive”. Immediate action was required at the exact moment we were least equipped to make rational decisions. In such a situation the mind, broken as it is, knows what it must do, as if the body freezes in the instant one must run. These opposing forces pull in equal measure, setting the mind and body out of phase with each other and the earth. This condition persists. I wanted the sun to come up again but was afraid of what a new day might bring.

It’s like this, step by step, through the process. The mind can’t keep pace with the body. When my wife went through chemotherapy, the first course of which was horrendous, I thought my heart would fail me every day. She was the one suffering. But she never cried, never complained. I was the one who cried, who stumbled, who searched for words.

I’m not proud of my behavior. I tried to hide my tears from her. She needed me strong and I tried to project that image to her. In fact I was astonished by her strength. I made her salads and she inspired me every day. And whenever I asked her where her strength came from she only made a joke, either, “It’s all an illusion” or, “I’m in denial”. Were we both trying to trick ourselves? Both maneuvering our uncooperative bodies into postures that enabled us to step from one day into the next? I watched her don makeup and a wig and perform onstage with the St. Petersbug Opera Company. Her joy in performing helped her overcome the deadening effects of chemo. Meanwhile I marched stone-faced through extra hours of work, a red notebook near at hand. But weren’t we really performing something like theater on a daily basis, a theater of denial and postures and poetry and song that enabled us to go on?

While I shed tear after tear she appeared in the morning light with—could it be?—a smile?—ready, open, eager for all of life’s gifts ever-flowing. What could I do but bask in her wonder? I carried the red notebook with me and surprisingly enough Atomic Theory Micro Press liked what I wrote enough to publish it. I’m thankful to them and to those of you who’ll read it. It’s a token to the immensity of life, beyond words, beyond imagination.

drawing by Mark Kerstetter

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On Illness as Metaphor

Note: I wrote the following earlier this year and for obscure reasons didn’t want to share it then. Now, with the publication of my cancer related poems, the time is right.

 

A quick scan of the reviews of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor on Goodreads reveals that younger readers, many of whom are reading the essay for a class, are often perplexed by it, so far removed are we from the metaphors on cancer that Sontag was attacking in 1978. They see virtually no trace of them today. I admit I have trouble remembering a time when some of them were active, but then until recently I had the luxury of not having to think about cancer. Continue reading

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Dewey Out Loud

If it weren’t for the memory of the friend who gave me a copy of John Dewey’s Art as Experience I probably would not have worked all the way through it. Continue reading

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One Step: Prayers and Curses

My Prayers and Curses chapbook of poems will be published by Atomic Theory Micro Press in an edition of fifty hand-sewn and numbered copies. Pre-sale begins on the 30th.

 

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My Love and the Catfish

Mirror, Crescent and Round Lakes,
though little more than decorated retention ponds,
made three, and Tampa Bay drew
the fourth line: boxed in.
Lake dwellers now, we walked
block after block
seeing everything house-shaped.
I wondered, will I ever be happy here?
But we hadn’t yet forgotten how to see
jacarandas in April and some days
fried catfish saved our lives.
I read These Lacustrine Cities every night
and sometimes the thought of you
weighing each dollar
wrung the last tear from our double rainbow.
Reading was discipline
and the poet taught me how
that I might engage my own
precise experimentation.
I saw then fresh as today
the logic of my situation
in your green eyes,
love locked.

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A Rainbow of Tears: Reading John Ashbery

I’m a regular fountain of tears today Continue reading

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Jerry Lewis Comes Home

Who will we call on to help us
negotiate the tripwires,
to summon the courage to trip,
for we will, inevitably, over
every one and not to dud, please,
but to spring back nonplussed, now
that you have fallen?

Dear Jerry, we aren’t as spry
as we used to be. And tumble
we will over studied nuttiness
or improvised decorum
in the full blare of fluorescents
radiating on rubbed nerves
amid constant calls
for caution.

Though you buttered the bread
the French learned to parbake
they never forgot the you
they embraced
and we willingly relinquished
—no, rejected, or more correctly
could not stand
to look upon
was us.

You slowly came back to our shores,
never having left, the boy still crying
for mother, turning buckets of tears
into showers of confetti.
Can we know you now
as us
and claim you now
as our own, now that your own
have turned
to dust?

 

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