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