My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was still in high school.
See, I would tell you what it was like back then except
I honestly have a hard time remembering it.

All I can remember is an evening phonecall from my cousin
explaining how my Momma had to spend the night in the hospital…
I don’t remember the reason why, except that it was cancer related
because, with my Mom, everything is cancer related.
See, she’s a Cancer…That is, astrologically speaking.
Before we continue, let me tell you what that means:

Cancer is a crab.
Cancer is, therefore, accustomed to scuttling
like a 9-year-old girl with asthma,
which is to say, panic attacks.
For some reason, little girls find Bullsharks hard to handle
and she carries guilt for that.
She carries it in her breast.
Her guilt for being Grandpa’s collateral damage is a lump in her chest
demanding that her cells be chemicalled to death.
My mom is chemicalled to death,
whether by therapists or doctors
or me.

When we sit around and smoke weed together,
we talk about how Mercury’s in Retrograde this month,
so the past is worth returning to.
The past is demanding we return to it.
The past is making itself known.
The past is always here and it’s the future.
My mom will always have cancer
since my mom is Cancer.

Cancer is a twenty-something memorizing the lyrics
to “I am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel
while pining for a high school principal
who plays the role of Father and Redeemer simultaneously
because he likes to remember what youth feels like.

Cancer is a rough surface with gooey insides,
something you must crack open to feast upon.
Once inside, the taste is sweet enough to mask the fact
that the organism you’ve been feeding on is, in fact, your Mother.
Shattered exoskeleton is evidence
that you have been ungrateful.

When the smell of crab wafts from the kitchen to your bedroom
you will know your Mother’s ghost will never leave this house.
But, Mother is not a ghost.
Mother is a Survivor.
Mother is a Hero.
My Mother’s brought back medals from Korea, from Vietnam,
from a movie theatre fifty miles from where her Father should have been,
from too many rounds of Chemotherapy to count,
from broken daughters,
from daughter’s broken bones,
Mom, I promise I’m not broken on the inside,
I just have a few cracks to fill in…

Mom, I love you
so much it hurts sometimes
because the thought of losing you has always been my nightmare,
maybe, I’ve kept it that way as a reminder that I owe everything to you.
You’ve given me everything I live for
even when I’ve refused to live for anything,
because, Mom, I too have cancer
and it’s the kind that eats things slowly
and leaves only question marks behind.
Questions like, ‘What’s going to happen when I wake up in the morning
and I’m six years old again crying your name down the hallway,
then down the staircase, maybe even outside
because you’re gone and I can’t find you
and no one’s listening to me cry
‘cuz no one’s answering to your name anymore.’

When I collapse on the floor I’m not a six year old,
but a woman with wrinkles she’s inherited from years spent on this earth
and you, Mother…
Where will you be, then,
when I can no longer hear the sound your grinding teeth make
before I yell at you to stop grinding your teeth
because I worry that grinding your teeth
will bring you that much closer to dying.
Like your Mother did,
and her Mother did before her,
like all the Mothers that did or ever will exist.

Impermanence feels like I imagine cancer would.
When it metastasizes, it will claim everything you know and love
and there’s still no drug on this planet strong enough to keep that from happening.
There never will be…

Poetry helps.


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