On Fire

Bury me amongst the trees

Where redwoods overlook the sea

From atop a crossed mountain

Where my body will quicken

From flesh into sand.

Underneath the needle-bed

Blanket, the fibers of my hair weave

A way through the wind-filled leaves.

Heat my voice with borrowed sun

Which once kissed my cheeks

Where freckles reached to meet.

You now hear my broken chords

Faintly in the the distance unmoored

Tasting the salted shore. Safely clean

I lay down on a million fine grains of sand

Not feeling myself again I repeat

To no one: I am an empty vessel.

I’ll still wake every morning

Habitually, my hands still sleep

Parting the fitted sheets aways,

Long gone I still reach after you.

I am the water, then the dew

Maturing into a pinguid mist.

The palms clap and sway to

Conduct the band at noon

To play a song of our bequest.

The hour’s imminent.

Time to ride a wicked dream on

A silk weaved carpet twisted

With last night’s ghostly breath.

Come take inventory of my remains

Should the tree mark me no more.

The lumber that’s become of me

Taken over by the shore. I am a house

Now – shelter for a family to whom you

Lost me once again. My soul holds up

The walls now, my legs hammered

Into floorboards, arms encircle

Each bedroom where the dormers rest.

My fingers lace together to build

A painted white front porch,

That’s my hips now a swing

Hung there, under the eaves.

Look up to see my head holds high

A roof; my back’s now the front door

My eyes frame All the windows, my heart beats

In the kitchen. My birds left the

Forest knowing where my mouth now sings

And the woodpecker that lived inside my trunk

Hollowed out my attic in the spring.

Let me stand strong and steady

For at least a hundred years.

By then, long gone, you built your own

And our lives live on, unworldly yet eternally.

Looking down at the rubble of what’s

Left of my body in the demolition heap.

What at all might grow from me who once

You buried underneath a tree?

Let me now burn someone’s hands

Someone lit afire from my plight.

It’s cold outside where I once stood

In the trees and dark of night

And I’ll burn vast and luminous

My spirit gives newborn light.

And then there’s my cancer…

We never know how high we are
Until we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to form
Our statures touch the skies

  • Emily Dickinson from poem 1176

Happiness: an illusive inner state to those of us with terminal illnesses. Each happy moment rolls into the next, yet we drive through life on a road with potholes and speed bumps as a reminder that we better slow down and enjoy it while we have this chance. To be sure, each and every waking morning opens the curtains on a new chance to grab at the brass ring, that for us is coveted yet covered in Vaseline. The ring slips from our hand as we ride by. The horse we ride runs free with us on its back, hand filled with the shadow of oil from our attempt at forgetting for a single day that this might very well be our last.

As finding our dream house should make for a feeling of joy at the real chance of building a fantasy foundation for our new beginning, I still well up with tears when I’m alone. Amazingly we have experienced much joy, having moved from the angry, traffic snarled, polluted San Jose to the clean, kind, and friendly cradle of the Sierra mountain foothills. Put that together with finding a home to put down roots permanently and you’d think – what does she have to complain about? Believe me, I’m not complaining one iota. It’s simply that the bittersweetness of biting into such a red delicious apple knowing it’s laced with poison that will kill me sooner, or I hope, later, covers my heart with a dark vail of sadness. I may not be here to enjoy the fruits of the seeds we planted and have cared for such a long time now.

We tended to our garden most recently with the difficulty of the move itself and over many years seeing my beloved finally pull out of his depression. So much to look forward to, so much love in this very moment in time to be grateful for.

Then there’s my cancer.

Making plans to switch oncology teams, making sure we’re in as clean of a house with the very best infrastructure in which we can invest – things like low to no VOC paints and bamboo wood floors – we’ve found an opportunity to live by the anti-cancer book. Complete with new friendships and a very cancer-supportive community this is certainly what appears as one of the four noble truths: nirvana. I’m finding a certain lack of suffering here. To me, who’s always lived by the old cliche the grass is always greener and finding some level of happiness wherever I am, this time of my life comes as something of a surprise to me.

And then there’s my cancer.

I’m reaching out for an exacting of equanimity here. A balance of sadness and happiness. Where suffering becomes the background or the shadow and joy comes forward to the forefront and into the light. It’s so hard. That’s all the language I can use to look for a way to achieve balance of taking care of my physical and emotional heath while not focusing on it. I can liken it to taking a photo of a sunset when you’ve got a person standing in front of the camera lens. I can see the colors blazing in the distance but there’s a big dark presence preventing me from taking in all that beauty.

Because there’s the cancer right in the way.

I hide it well. Sometimes my beloved asks if something is wrong or if I’m angry with him. No honey I’m not. I’m happier with our relationship than any other time in our 12+ years together or any romantic relationship I’ve been in my entire life.

It’s just the cancer getting in my way again.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few weeks ago as my weekly blog bonus. I love the theme of it – it’s tangentially akin to the theme of this blog post. On that note here’s:

Cold Love

Would I be if born a snake
Or bee, or clam, or fish?
Leg less, bloodless, and cold blooded
A thing without future or past.
Without arms to hold us
How do they establish a child’s
First love? Without sounds
Without syllables, no words to wound
With no hands to slap cheeks for the tears?
No false devotion to express and
No arms to commit forged emotion.
Did god know we needed belief?
Maybe words and hands on the end of arms
Beat us to the punch?

Whose guilty fingers purge my throat
To say nothing of love’s remorse.
Outstretched, sewn, and quilted
Receiving dubious mistrust
And soiled gifts of healing.
Arms holding light to beseech me
The creatures run back to the wooded wild.
Any path dark and clouded
Covered with leaves compacted
By nights grand mothers who sneak
By and slither away with our soundless cries
Morays silently drift in shallows,
The pecks of grounded wild turkeys,
The opinions of poisonous black widows
All mothers in the dark shadows of sea, of land, and of twine
Wait to hold their young somehow.
They give what’s needed and then take away
Without a word to convey their warnings.
Compliantly we wait at the forest edge
Huddled alone and cold until
Tonight tar black and frightening
Clears away in the dim light of morning.

Uncertainty

Life’s great deceit
The human equalizer
Is death, certainly.
No announcement from our pilot
No time of arrival
No maps of the place we land,
And what happens
Afterwards
All mysteries, all.

He teases us with a whip sometimes
tickles our insides with a feather.
Cancer’s uncertain effects
Of diagnosis of life or death
Or would it be a stretch
Of the imagination
A Jewish woman may conjure up an image
like this:
I’m in a concentration camp
Looking down a barrel of a CT scanner
Like waiting in line for a shower
But the lot of us wind up
Tossed into a gas chamber.

A body transformed at the whims of science
For the good of us and the bad of the rest
And for those who cannot sleep.
My head droops on my neck escaping the air
Closer to the ground where the poison
Waits snaking up my body. A fat brown boa,
twisting and constricting
Suffocating my peace with a promise:
Please squeeze hard.
For thick with the dead
After life’s passing glory
The campaign marches on.
Beating time tracking and tracing out
Torsos with cold leather fingers
They drew my blood then sent me
To the mass grave. I fell in
Losing my balance.
On the bodies of giant
Piles of shoulders
I become faceless in a crowd
Of numbers up before mine.

“You look great.”

Walking up to my weatherproof face
Say, “you look great,”
(With the implied italics on the great.)
My invalidly clear skin,
Such wise wild eyes,
Naturally open up wide,
Wow, you look great!“

Could you spare a surprise?
Shuddering at the danger of such a storm
Surging through my veins like an impulse
Holding back the invisible force
As you to recoiled.

Do you recall the dress I wore that pink afternoon?

How I make lemonade from such a sour fruit?
I don’t think
About my v-neck or recall how I flowed by you
Last time we met.
Unlucky chance as
Circumstances,
Uncomfortable yet innocuous. Maybe
A mall or a supermarket?
In an aisle with its Chia seeds, with its quinoa,
With its turmeric or with its masala, or with its free green tea?
Did you try some new found red fruit
Ubiquitous and misspelled as often as the word misspell.
Say it again:

You look so shocked that we must do lunch.
Face red over the menu
Its dishes unpronounceable.
Those one named joints like Spoon or Fork.
Those restaurants where everything on the list you exclaim and pronounce, expertly.

If it came down to the question of my looks,
Would you reply
Without gratitude:
Why thank you
How graciously
Oh, you’re too kind.
Leave for home alone
And cry.

Or ask me
“why do you ask me?”

As though you were the sick one.
Overrun with a malady,
Melodiously, waltzing to
A “thank you” with a sing song voice,
High and staccato
But sad sad
Ever sad.
Rememorys of quotes,
Remember me?
Reaffirming how strong, how beautiful, how positive?
Stop – the compliments overflow in my former cups.
How good do I really Iook?
Is it true or
The way shock looks good on you?
How good does it look not to be sick?
Not to lose?
I want to win the rights
to own my identity.
The right to keep my hair.
“You kept your hair!
How wonderful.“
I look fabulous.
Would you recoil if I retorted
Or chortled,
Out of some joke at the expense of your boundaries?
Your fence affronted
Laughing nervously
At my acerbic wit.
To whit without bullshit.
You commend me for my strength.

And then worse than all the worlds’ compliments:
“I’ll pray for you.”
As god walks away to hit the drugstore
Along the weathered path home
No kneeling at the counter of
Optimal opioids and malcontents.

So, gaze inside every
mirror
Each shop window along your route.
Let the looking glass take you to the other side.
Take a snapshot of yourself inside
After the infusion.
It’s not permitted by punishment
By law.
By transdermal
By transplant
By subcutaneous injections
By contrast
To you
I do look great.