McDoc

Just another Medical Humanities Blog

Posts Tagged ‘cancer poems’

Poems for August 2013

Posted by mcdoc on August 6, 2013

Rafael Campo

(1964 – )

Morbidity and Mortality Rounds
hippocrates_prize_logo_med

Forgive me, body before me, for this.
Forgive me for my bumbling hands, unschooled
in how to touch: I meant to understand
what fever was, not love. Forgive me for
my stare, but when I look at you, I see
myself laid bare. Forgive me, body, for
what seems like calculation when I take
a breath before I cut you with my knife,
because the cancer has to be removed.
Forgive me for not telling you, but I’m
no poet. Please forgive me, please. Forgive
my gloves, my callous greeting, my unease—
you must not realize I just met death
again. Forgive me if I say he looked
impatient. Please, forgive me my despair,
which once seemed more like recompense. Forgive
my greed, forgive me for not having more
to give you than this bitter pill. Forgive:
for this apology, too late, for those
like me whose crimes might seem innocuous
and yet whose cruelty was obvious.
Forgive us for these sins. Forgive me, please,
for my confusing heart that sounds so much
like yours. Forgive me for the night, when I
sleep too, beside you under the same moon.
Forgive me for my dreams, for my rough knees,
for giving up too soon. Forgive me, please,
for losing you, unable to forgive.

“Morbidity and Mortality Rounds” by Rafael Campo from Alternative Medicine, Duke University Press. ©2013 Rafael Campo. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
(1844 – 1889)

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things–

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise Him.

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins written 1877.

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment, Patient-Doctor Relationship | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for December 2012

Posted by mcdoc on December 7, 2012

Ronald Wallace
(1945 – )

The Truth

for Amy

Her breast cancer, she said,
had metastasized to her liver;
she was going to die, and
soon. She said it made her
sad. I didn’t know her well.
We were co-workers and
I liked her, but
what do you say when someone
actually answers the question
how are you?
with the unvarnished truth:
Not well, she said. I haven’t
long to live. And should I
have said Oh you will! Should I
have smoothed it over
with the syrup of nervousness,
or done what I did
which was to
talk about terror and anger,
the unfairness and the lie,
to take the truth at face value?
No, she was just sad, she said.
She had her faith, she said,
and started to cry. And only then
did I see what she needed from me
was miracle, a simple belief
in miracle, and if that was varnish,
well, it would bring the grain
of the truth out, would save it
from wear and weather.
It would make the truth
almost shine.

“The Truth” by Ronald Wallace, from Long for this World. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

David Wagoner
(1926 – )

The Escaped Gorilla

When he walked out in the park that early evening
just before closing time, he didn’t take
the nearest blonde in one arm and climb a tree
to wait for the camera crews. He didn’t savage
anyone in uniform, upend cars
or beat his chest or scream, and nobody screamed
when they found him hiding behind the holly hedge
by the zoo office where he waited for someone

to take him by the hand and walk with him
around two corners and along a pathway
through the one door that wasn’t supposed to be open
and back to the oblong place with the hard sky
where all of his unbreakable toys were waiting
to be broken, with the wall he could see through,
but not as far as the place he almost remembered,
which was too far away to be anywhere.

“The Escaped Gorilla” by David Wagoner, from A Map of the Night. © University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Posted in End-of-Life, medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for November 2011

Posted by mcdoc on November 4, 2011

Linda Hogan
(1947 – )

The Way In

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

Ronald Wallace
(1945 – )

Obituary

Just once, you say,
you’d like to see
an obituary in which
the deceased didn’t succumb
after “a heroic struggle” with cancer,
or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, or
whatever it was
that finally took him down.
Just once, you say,
couldn’t the obit read:
He got sick and quit.
He gave up the ghost.
He put up no fight at all.
Rolled over. Bailed out.
Got out while the getting was good.
Excused himself from life’s feast.
You’re making a joke and
I laugh, though you can’t know
I’m considering exactly that:
no radical prostatectomy for me,
no matter what General Practitioner
and Major Oncologist may say.
I think, let that walnut-sized
pipsqueak have its way with me,
that pebble in cancer’s slingshot
that brings dim Goliath down.
So, old friend, before I go
and take all the wide world with me,
I want you to know
I picked up the tip.
I skipped the main course,
I’m here in the punch line.
Old friend, the joke’s on me.

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for February 2011

Posted by mcdoc on February 1, 2011

Alicia Suskin Ostriker
(1937 – )

Lymphoma

I come from visiting my once-blonde
friend in hospital with non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma the chemo is working

we chat about other women’s husbands
suffering from Parkinson’s
we laugh cry hug we feel a little lucky

down the hall an attendant rolls a gurney
yellowish old man skull glares
from under a blanket

now how in hell do I get out
can’t find elevator or stairs
despite red neon EXIT signs everywhere

Mary Oliver
(1935 – )

Bone

1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape –
and so, last week,
when I found on the beach
the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died
hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something –
for the ear bone

2.

is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where
once, in the lively swimmer’s head,
it joined its two sisters
in the house of hearing,
it was only
two inches long –
and thought: the soul
might be like this –
so hard, so necessary –

3.

yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,
unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;
I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

4.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts –
certainties –
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for August 2010

Posted by mcdoc on August 13, 2010

Wow, I had my August poems all queued up in mid-July, and then life happened. My 22-year-old son came for a very nice visit, and then to celebrate my 49th birthday, my wife and I are on vacation in Québec. Alors, voilà les Poems for August posted from our little appartement in the beautiful arrondissement du Plateau Mont-Royal de la Ville de Montréal:

Sue Ellen Thompson (1948 – )

Hospital Days

The tests, the bloodwork—they
were good days, with magazines
to absorb the time spent waiting.
The nurses’ banter spread a sheen
of normalcy over everything,
and the doctors left a little space
in their advice where spirit
might lodge. The three of us
went everywhere together, and at last
I knew the pleasure that the only child
takes in the company of her makers.

Then the doctor came to us one day
and said the chemo hadn’t made
the kind of progress he was looking for,
that we could take my mother home
and stay. We sat there, stunned by what
our weeks of rushing to appointments
had not left us to contemplate,
then drove home without speaking. This day,
unlike the others, would not end
with smiles and good-byes, my father’s
and my arms tucked beneath my mother’s
and hope’s modest, steady flame
still unextinguished in us at the thought
of eating supper at the kitchen table
before we called the cats in from the dark.

Eleanor Lerman (1952 – )

The City, Berobed in Blue

What do you think has come over me?
I did not feel like this yesterday
but today, all I find myself thinking is,
This could be my last apartment,
my last lover; this could be the last dog
I ever own—as if I were going to die
at any moment. Which of course
is possible (myocardial infarction,
genetic defect, lighting bolt)

The anxiety may pass, but not
the age. Yikes, every moment says
And then, Look out!

Well, what can be done but put
a good face on it? A big one,
round as a moon and glittering
to the last. Or maybe slide into
an om state, where nothing is
something and everything is
more or less of something else

Better yet, maybe it’s time to think
about the city, berobed in blue,
which now appears to me in memory
as a good place for a young girl,
who only I can recognize

See how lightly she steps off into
another, and then another morning
And as if she has never done it before,
begins to breathe

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for June 2010

Posted by mcdoc on June 23, 2010

Liam Rector (1949 – 2007)

This Summer

Sitting in the chair that is somewhere
between the chair of a barbershop and a beauty parlor,
chemo dripping into the catheter
surgically implanted into my chest, into body,
I resolve to smoke at least a half-ounce
of marijuana when I get home.
Perhaps I’ll smoke a pound.
Dizzier than hell must be dizzy,
I’m still able to drive
(though will I be able next week?),
and after getting my ticket punched
I roar out of the Farber Clinic
(how splendid to have cancer in Boston
and fall heir to the astute care
available here)
in the silver sports car I sport
during this debacle,
and heat roars into me
with humidity so deep
it is a theological offense
which I cannot help
but take personally.
I think I may die without god,
my single comic integrity
that I have remained
an atheist in the foxhole,
though I am ready
to roar through the gates
if there are gates.
This summer I’ve joined the grown-old,
the infirm, the shut-ins, and the bald-headed young
(they the hardest to bear), this summer
starting with chemotherapy and ending,
by god it seems almost an ending,
with thirty radiation treatments
which have brought me to my knees.
The marijuana works. It clears things.
How lovely!
How lonely it is sometimes to have cancer.
The grass is as good as it was
when I was sixteen and found grass made the grass
a bit greener over yonder.
Almost as good
as the music I listened to that summer.
This summer I rejoin
the ever-new and always refreshing
“Get naked and stay stoned,” Baudelairian crowd
as I plop stoned in the many rocks
of a river in Vermont
next to my friend’s house
where we have for so many summers
worshipped the backroads
with the sports cars the two of us have driven
since we got the money to get them.
In a sports car I have worshipped this summer
the songs I’ve recorded on tape
driving and listening incessantly,
thinking this may be my last summer
this summer. This summer
I have conversed with death every minute
and found out I have the talent
to submit, to leave, even to flee,
and, in this, there’s nothing exceptional
about me. Why, the sidewalks around Farber
are populated with so many about to die,
many of great courage and grim humor and great shuffle
getting ready, as they can, to go,
looking like they do, like the wounded of Atlanta
lying around in Atlanta just after the burning
of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.
I am among them.
They are mine, and I am theirs.
Our motto: Fight to live; prepare to go.
This summer it is so good
to hear from friends (one of whom I hear
just died: brain tumor) before I drive on out
for another burn of radiation
before I suit myself with another week of chemo
tied to a portable belt so I can go out
easily to the ocean, to remaining
friends there, before I lean into another joint,
a late century life afloat on a sea of loans,
and hear over the telephone my sixteen-year-old
daughter in Virginia saying she now thinks
she will never ever smoke marijuana
because it is, after all,
just another “gateway drug.”

Louise Glück (1943 – )

Midsummer

On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks — bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end — sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we’d meet
and the nights we wouldn’t. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We’d sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: