If genes shut off
like lights in an urban landscape
recorded from the lake’s other shore
in a time-lapsed loop
then I am a vague object
in the foreground
and a tumor
is a cluster of buildingsand words
multiply change devour
cancer is a muse
writing this poem
and I am
sentient words genes
You look young. I go to an 80s retro dance on Sunday afternoons. Cardio is a great antidote to middle age. Survival odds are still 50/50. Under the knife, a life can go left, suddenly. I count drips from a saline bag above, hooked to a pole I named Ginger Rogers. I’m Fred Astaire.
I’m being asked to trust the anesthetist more than my own father. I wonder if this would be easier if I believed in Gods. I think of doctors, God-lets on earth, scraps of self-help I whip from a pocket of my brain when I’m trying to give advice to my friends. Everything happens for a reason.
Hypnos was the God of tranquilizers and denial, tricking minds with fentanyl and alprazolam, growing poppies in a night cave. And Asclepius became the God of medicine after Hades killed him for performing resurrections. Irony.
Witness signatures next to consent. I yield to a bee sting to belly, to thin any possible blood disasters, then a stab to the hand. I swear the nurse whispers before you go, tell me your story. My face begins to blur. I become a cartoon Apollo reciting a poem about my weakening heel.
In the first smudge of induced sleep, I confess that I mistake surgery for violence. Tell me. I try to journey to a sofa of clouds,
while buzzing surgery ceiling lights fool me with a white light heaven. It is strange to be saved.
If I tug a truth from my chest, this tender cure feels like a new slur I don’t deserve, not a second chance. My heart repeats history, palpitation, rapid fire machine gun that began forty years ago, when I froze in boyhood under a man’s hands.
Losing consciousness is always a risk. We give away our bodies. I want an ecstasy of presence. Morning meetings cancelled. To do’s struck through. Wakefulness. Wholeness.
But parts of me are about to be removed. I miss my original jitterbugging beauty, before this diagnosis zigzagged through the center of my posture, stiffening my spine into a tango.
Which side of the metaphor is better? A scalpel slices through connective tissue, creating a new context. Two ideas joined. Before and after. Fear and Hope. I am always 70/30 seawater though.
EVIDENCE BASED MEDICINE
Here the prince falls asleep waiting for another prince
in blue scrubs to bring him a pill. The bed is draped
with a canopy of thorny lace and shark pups dart
in a surrounding moat of coconut water. The wall
is an unfolding scroll of medical history and lottery
quick pick numbers. It’s like a first date. There is a court
jester too, jingling in the background, swinging a velvet
bag of Oxycodone and Ceftriaxone. A flash mob
of loyal knights in white tutus plie, hands against a canon.
It’s challenging to dance while wearing armor. My prince
arrives and we transcend the room, float to an endless
dune of turmeric. Our beach towels are made of melting
cobalt, bare legs and arms, braided threads, stained dark
amber and crimson. We lie, body contours of spice in wind.
The ocean is slow glycerin, tide rushing below swarms
of dragonflies with blurred wings, hovering like
helicopters — or a question answered with a question.
Does illness bring a life into focus? How long does acceptance
take? A fever breaks and clears. It’s difficult to write
the end of a dream. The end is always to wake or die.
Click here to read Gordon Taylor on the origin of the poems.
Image: photo by Do Kwon on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.
Gordon Taylor: “Muse” came from a very long run on sentence I wrote. I was googling how cancer works in the body and recording my surroundings as a free write exercise. From there I began paring it away and paring it away to reach an essential message. The whole experience of cancer is that a body and a person is being redefined, and that can also happen when reading and writing. Perspective changes. A mind changes. I started to think as well how the impetus for writing the poem itself was the result of the changes in the body caused by cancer and then selected the images from the run-on sentence that furthered that idea.
“Evidence Based Medicine” — I didn’t do much to this poem. It was one of those writing experiences where words just “come out” as a gift. This poem was a verbatim recording of an opioid induced fever dream I had while in the emergency room, mixed with imagery from a science fiction film I had just seen. At first it was two poems, and then evolved into one. Throughout my journey through the medical system, I was struck by the level of detachment that is required by all parties to get through it. It’s a weird kind of dissociation – dreamlike even. And really a body just becomes a project – a problem to be solved. A scan report, a series of images.
“Unexpected Equations” arose out of my cancer treatment, specifically the surgery and preparation for surgery. The poem began as jotted memories, in the Notes app on my phone, of specific details of the surgery experience and unrelated snippets about Greek historical figures. I was considering how any event can be interpreted by a person, depending on background and memory … and I started to play on the double meaning of the word “treatment” i.e. our and minds and memories “treat” events in a certain way. I had a lot of trouble making my thoughts fit together, until I came up with the form. I was considering the violence of medicine and why it could be interpreted as violence – and it occurred to me that this was just an equation I was making in my mind. Making meaning or metaphor is also creating an equation. And so, the columns and the + sign separators arose to link different impressions of the surgical event and the accumulation of parallel “interpretations” that a “traumatized” body may experience.
- Body Scans - October 14, 2022