Waiting

The story of one man’s journey

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Waiting

I remember pushing
my father around the ward
in the hospital.
Two weeks we had together.

My father sat in his wheel chair
and I wheeled him
up and down.

“Cancer,” they told me.
“But it’s kinder not to let him know.”
In those days, it was better to die
without knowing why.
Did I betray him by not letting him
know what I now need to know?

One day, he begged me for help
and I lifted him out of his wheelchair
and placed him on the toilet.
He strained and strained
but could not, would not go.

“Son,” he said, sitting there,
“Will you rub my back?”
How could I say no?

That strong man,
the man who had carried me
in his arms, on his back,
and me standing there,
watching him,
his trousers around his knees,
straining hopelessly,
and me bent over him,
rubbing his back,
waiting,

for him to go.

Comment: Thank you, once again, Alejandro Botelho of Diverse TV. This was a great reading. If you, dear reader, are interested, you can listen to it HERE. Alejandro’s reading of my poem begins at 40.52 and ends at 42.33. But remember, the other poems are also well worth listening to and Alejandro has a great voice and wonderful interpretation. A further comment: first there is the text. Then there is Alejandro’s excellent reading. Then there is my own reading. From each of these the observant reader and / or listener will extract a slightly different emphasis and meaning. In my own case, following Alejandro’s reading of the original text, I have added some minor changes, to add to the intertextual rhythm of the words. Tolle, lege et vade mecum. A Cancer Chronicle is available HERE.

Prostate

Prostate

Pictures and models.
1 Prostate: normal size and shape.
2 Prostate enlarged.
3 Prostate enormously enlarged.
4 Prostate lumpy, malformed,
          cancerous, and me prostrate.

Lumpy and treacherous:
a gross shape growing
its grossness within me.
Gross, but mine and a vital
part of my living body.

A mad world this, twisted
time and fairground mirrors
distorting everything, and me
grossed out by the mechanical
clockwork, tick-tock, snip-snap,
removing samples for some
lab to examine and test.

“Give them back!”
I want to scream.
I guess I’ll get them back
on Judgement Day,
when the body resurrects
and I am whole again,
warts, cancer, and all.

Meanwhile, the biopsy’s done.
I get up from the bed
and the nurse hands me a towel
so I won’t drown my sorrows
in my body blood, a crimson
tide, ample, thick, flowing red.

Comment: After a couple of phone calls, some e-mails, and some messages on Facebook, I realize that some of my friends are actually following this blog and reading it. Thank you for the care and attention you have shown me by writing or calling to inquire about my health. All is well. I visited my urologist yesterday for a regular check-up and sat there a little longer than usual, waiting. Never one to waste time, I studied the things in the office and discovered a model prostate over which I could run my fingers (I didn’t!). It showed the four stages of prostate enlargement and cancer development as outlined above. I had no paper with me, so I jotted down four poems on the back of the paper bag in which I carried the injection I would later receive. This poem was one of them. The reference to Judgement Day and the recovery of body parts comes from one of Quevedo’s Suen~os, El suen~o del infierno, I believe. Anyway, my apologies, if I have worried you. I am fine, thank you. However, as Quevedo also wrote, “The day I was born I took my first step on the road to death”. Alas, I too am one of Dylan Thomas’s ‘poor creatures, born to die,’ as are we all. If not now, when? Not too soon, I hope. Blessings and thanks to all who read this. Take care and stay healthy.

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?

Aubade

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Aubade

Driving in winter, early one morning,
from Island View
to the Georges Dumont Hospital in Moncton
for Cancer tests

1

The crows in the garden complain of the cold,
cawing from their look-out points
with short, sharp calls.

A life of ease they seem to live,
but when the mercury descends and water freezes
icy blinds inside our window panes and snow-
squalls bluster in from north and west,
who knows what’s best for those poor birds
aloft in their crow’s nest spars,
sailing snow’s seas,
steadfast in their skippering of wind-bent trees?

This Arctic cold is such
that neither man nor beast can love it much,
crouched close to whatever warmth there is,
shivering in the wind’s cold touch.

 2

 Yesterday, a dozen crows pecked at salt grains
scattered over this road.

A black-clad chorus, they rejoiced
when sunshine drew the white-tailed deer,
from winter depths of banked up snow.

Not long ago she was alive.
Now she lies stiff and broken.

Soon she’ll be picked up by workmen,
tossed into the back of their truck,
dumped, and forgotten.

What magic spell invokes what beginnings?
To what end do we prolong our days?
What myth, this fairy-tale I call my life?
Stars drift hidden through the sunny sky.

3

Driving home from the hospital,
bullied by fierce winds
on a snow-packed road,
I dream as I drive.

I envision a past
that never was, a future
that may never be.

As I hibernate in that past,
last summer’s flowers
flourish in my mind.

The car skids into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty wheeler rumbles by:
there are so many ways to die.

Collateral Damage

And that’s not all they checked: a regular Spanish Inquisition. Post Covid-19 it has all fallen silent. Those doctors don’t call anymore.

Collateral Damage

Once a month, they used to stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high.

The doctors kept telling me
it was a level playing field
but every week they changed the rules
and twice a year they moved the goal-posts.

Monday Night Football:
a man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
held a whistle to his lips while another
threw a penalty flag. It came out of the tv
and fell flapping at my feet.
Someone on the field called a time out.

I haven’t seen my doctor for three years.
My urologist has been silent
for more than eighteen months.
It’s been two years since I last spoke
with my oncologist.

I have become collateral damage.
My body clock is ticking down.
I know I’m running out of time.

Comment: I know I am not the only one to have fallen between the cracks in the medical service. Nor will I be the last. I don’t want to cry ‘wolf!’ and yet I feel as though I have been completely rejected. A year after I recovered from my cancer, I received a survey asking me to assess my post-cancer treatment and services. I read it and cried. I did not even know that the services I was being asked to assess were even being offered. I had certainly received none of the follow-up services. “A law for the rich and a law for the poor” indeed. And so many cracks between so many floorboards with so many people falling through. This is not a rant: it is a warning that all of us must look out for ourselves. I can assure you that if you don’t care for yourself, nobody, but nobody, except for your nearest and dearest, will give a damn for you either.

Angel

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Angel

I thought for a moment that, yes,
I was an angel and I was dancing
on a pinhead with so many other
angels, and all of us butterflies
spreading our wings with their peacock
eyes radiant with joy and tears spark
-ling in time to the music that wanders
up and down and around with inscrutable
figures held spell bound in a magic moment
… and I still feel that pulsing in my head,
that swept up, heart stopping sensation
when the heavens opened and the eternal
choir raised us up from the earth, all
earthbound connections severed and all
of us held safe in an Almighty hand.

Comment: an old poem this, from 2015, when I was in Moncton at the Auberge Monsignor Henri Cormier. It was not the easiest of times. However, there was music and dancing every week. The band would start playing, and the room would slowly fill with  men and women. The bravest would dance first and then, slowly, others would join in, all our woes forgotten in an up lifting moment of movement. The ladies: high necklines, head scarves; the gentlemen: some moving slowly, all doing their best.

For a while, I felt warm and safe, protected somehow in a fantasy world where, just for one evening a week, all troubles were forgotten and we could all be normal again in spite of our suffering. That moment together with the warmth and comforting friendship of my fellow sufferers still stays with me.

Sheep

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Sheep

I wear the hide of the sheep
they slaughtered for me
twenty-three years ago
in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Like a sheep led to slaughter
I wait in the waiting room
along with other willing victims.
Heads down, silent, we clutch
open magazines, but do not
lift our heads or make eye contact.

In World War One, French troops
bleated like sheep as they marched
in tight columns towards Verdun.

They were disciplined and decimated,
one in ten shot for cowardice.
Is it cowardly to sit here, shivering,
glum faced, as we await
bad news and an uncertain fate?

I hate this uncertainty,
this inability to know what
is happening to my body.

Knowledge I can face, but
not doubt’s shadow dancing
like a will-o’-the wisp, and
leading who knows where,
keeping me awake as it did,
last night, stoking my fears
into this red-hot furnace
filled with burning coals
of fierce, fired-up doubt.

True bravery is to know fear,
to face it, and to face it down,
and to laugh in its face even
though your heart is breaking
and your gut tells you to run,
now, before it’s too late.

 

 

 

Operation Merciless

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Operation Merciless
(1916 & 2019)

what can we
will we do
we raise our eyes
to silent skies
sing hymns and arias
who listens
nobody replies
we must do our duty
lambs to the slaughter
bleating as we march
our bleeding hearts
pleading for release
this earthly bondage
a bandage over eyes
decimated they tell us
one in ten of us
each must give a finger
a toe everyone must go
ten percent of everything
we own docked
a spaniel’s tail
a boxer’s ears
I cry out why
as I lie on the gurney
hoping to hell
I will not die

 

 

 

Double Trouble

PEI + bockle 2008 025

 

Double Trouble

“I’ll need some ID,” the guy selling Fred a new cell phone said. “Something with a photo on. May I see your driving license?”

“Of course,” Fred pulled out his driver’s license.

The salesman took it, glanced at the picture, walked over to the computer, and started to type in numbers. Fred watched him as he nonchalantly punched the keys. Then Fred saw him stiffen and straighten up as he held the license up to the light, double-checked it, and frowned.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the salesman said, looking very sad. “This license has expired. It’s more than two years out of date.”

“You’re joking,” Fred said

“No sir,” the salesman replied. “This license expired two and a half years ago.”

He handed it back to Fred who also checked it with care. At first, the figures seemed blurred. Fred took out his glasses and put them on.

“You’re right,” Fred said. “It is out of date. I must have the new one in here somewhere.”

He started to rummage through all the plastic cards in his wallet. But there was no new driving license.

“I must have left it at home,” Fred muttered.
“They usually shred the old licenses,” the salesman smiled. “They never let you keep them. You must have forgotten to renew.”

Fred placed his hands on the cell-phone counter, looked down, and saw his face mirrored in the shiny plastic. He gazed into his own eyes and they looked back at him. Then his mind flashed back two and a half years.

He had just been through the biopsy, a messy, painful, and unnerving affair, and the results had come back positive.

The urologist demanded a new battery of tests: X-rays, bone scans, blood tests, MRI’s, examinations, more examinations, questionnaires, discussions about possible forms of treatment …

The different treatments were set out like food in a self-serve restaurant and, like the strange foreign foods that Fred liked to try without knowing exactly what they were, their names meant nothing to him.

Then there was the travel: out on the road between his little place in the country and the major cancer hospitals in the province with an examination here, and a consultation over there. All the medical staff he encountered were kind and helpful and the suggestions they offered were sound. The winter road conditions complicated matters, though, and twice he was forced to cancel appointments because of road conditions.

Then, a week or so after the MRI, the allergic reactions set in and, over a three week period he lost all the skin, first off his hands, and then off his feet. He watched the skin bubble, then he saw it go very dry, and then it just flaked off. He remembered getting out of the shower one morning, drying his feet, and staring down at the little pile of flaked-off skin that had come away with the towel.

A little later on, came the injections, the tablets, and that was before the start of radiation treatment …

Now, two and a half years later, Fred’s driving license, the one that should have been renewed on his birthday, had expired. He remembered that birthday well. He lay on his side in the hospital and the specialist drove that first needle into his buttock … what a birthday present. And now, two and a half years later, he had another special gift from that birthday, an expired driving license.

He thanked the cell-phone salesman, put his expired driving license back in his wallet, and said how sorry he was that he would be unable to purchase the cell-phone at this time.

Early the next morning, Fred went down to the Driving License Renewal Center to discover his fate.

The lady on the counter was most sympathetic. She listened to his story and told him not to worry.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time. But I’m afraid you’ll need to take all the tests again, including the road test. That’s the law. I’ll need to see some documentation. A photo ID is preferable. Do you have your birth certificate or your passport with you?”

Fred nodded. He had checked online to see what he needed and had brought all the right documents. He handed the passport over.

The lady behind the counter took the passport, opened it, and looked up at Fred with a sad little smile.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “You are in double trouble. Your passport has expired as well.”

Double Trouble appears in my short story collection Bistro 2,
also available on Amazon.

Naval Gazing

Bistro Cartoon Naval Gazing

 

Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording