25 January 2012

daring decimation to do its worst

January 24, 2012

I have to say, I expected a more emotional response from yesterday’s visit to the Kirklin Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. For its proximity to my house, the KCCCC is where I will be getting my three week (after chemo rounds) blood work done—keeping up with those red and white counts, reportedly important numbers.

But my point is this: Nearly five years ago, I came to that building five days a week for a month to have my brain irradiated. For a month, I had friends who were variously dying, slowly like the rest of us, on a speeding train like some others of us. We were a band of five or six whose appointments with post-space-age-disintegration of cells coincided. Some of us, like me, were neck-up patients, the rest were neck-down patients. All of us were fast friends. We knew each other’s illnesses, of course, but we also knew each other’s hopes and loves, things we had done, things that come hell or high-water, we would surely do. We told stories, some of which were vast conflations—for the tickle of lies and the ensuing laughter. [For a fictional account of one of these days, I refer you to my story living online @ http://mixedfruitmagazine.com/issues-3/waiting/]

Actually, I think my real point is this: I expected a surge of sentimentality as I approached the doors of the KCCCC, as I rolled into the waiting room, as I looked down the hall where the radiation techs stood in front of their complicated imaging machines, as I waited. But nothing registered. Perhaps because my name was called almost immediately. Perhaps because five years is a long time in neuro-oncology terms. Most likely, though, was the sense of disconnection between myself and the five or six freshly fast friends in the partitioned back room comparing scars and life-expectancies, waiting for their names to be called, daring decimation to do its worst. Come hell or high-water.

A poem I’ve been working on--the narrative is true in as much as the memories are accurate.

Uncle Ben and the Eye of Charley

Uncle Ben, unrelated, just a friend

Of the family: his tumor grew too large,

Too fast, I learned

Of his death too late

To love him more. To catch

One more croaking cat from his Pop’s

Pond deep in the Carolina

Tobacco acres, or another stringer

Of pompano from the Nag’s Head surf.

We tripped along the rows

Of his Pop’s farm—unearthing arrowheads.

Uncle Ben chunked our wishful

Thinking back into the field, spat

Upon the genuine articles, like Christ

For blind eyes, and presented

Them as if now a buffalo stampede

Would surely follow.

Those were all the early years.

Fish-fries and whacking thick brush

With his gleaming machete.

It’s fine if other things happened,

It’s fine if that was all.


Uncle Ben’s pick-up woke

Up angry and stayed sour all day.

Me and Christopher

Rode with Ben. Rain pelted the window—

Splattery novae keeping

Me wide-eyed. I tried to see the lines

Uncle Ben claimed to see

Clear as day.

The hurricane shoved us,

Lane to lane. Eastbound the bridge

would close, said the radio.

Ben leaned forward,

An earnest effort to gather

Momentum. We had come too far

To turn around. Tire-spray and fumes

Sneaked through the broken floorboard.


We burst through the rain—

One second in, the next second out.

The bridge rose, brilliant,

In front of us, stretched beyond sight

Toward the Outer Banks, toward

Another orbing terrace of charcoal clouds.

A caravan of evacuees jammed

The mainland route and Uncle Ben

Laughed. That’s right,

That’s more fish for me. He punched

My thigh (a bruise I cherished

For a week’s worth of showers).

More fish for me! More fish for me . . .

He kept saying as the sun

Sparked the chopped-up sound.

I pictured him jabbing marlin,

Mid-Atlantic, with his pants rolled.


The radio called the storm Charley.

My grandfather’s name.

My father’s name.

A cousin’s name.

Ben was just a family friend

Whose tumor came on fast,

A misfired cannonball to the head.

In the eye of Charley, on the closed-

Down bridge, which of our brains

Had begun to betray us?

Neither would know until long

After the junk-covered beach streets

And the shaking shack

On stilts, bearing Charley’s brunt.

Long after fish-foul shores—

A wreckage of dead horseshoe crabs

And battered jellyfish—the cold walk,

All of us, grit-shot and gust-sprayed,

Toward the lighthouse—the pride

Of Hatteras, the pride of us,

Having ignored the storm.

Having braved the bridge.

Having caught no fish,

But in theory, oh in theory—the fish

My Uncle Ben could’ve caught

One man left to his ocean, pant-legs hiked,

Spearing marlin, laughing,

There’s another for me!

And another for me. And another . . .

And so forth, forever, or as close

We come—Ben as far as he could,

Me as far as I can. And so forth, all

Of us, toward the lighthouse.

January 18, 2012


  1. Really do like this one......perhaps it is because we honeymooned at Nags Head and I went to the top of Hatteras while there.

  2. Yeah, it's a nice place to visit for sure. Maybe one day I'll get back to the cape in some decent weather.