By Tamara Miles
My friend has prostate cancer. He’s depressed.
Today, I cover his English class.
A person who has never had cancer,
Like a person who has never been gay, or homeless,
or has never been shot down
In a plane over Iraq and ended up missing
An arm and a leg, or has never divorced
Or had an affair, or been born a Muslim,
A Mormon, or a Jew, cannot possibly
Understand the associated conflicts.
His father was a pilot. He’s from a small town,
Loves his wife and his dog. He’s a damn fine poet,
A loyal friend. On certain nights we’ve gotten
Drunk and listened to Dylan Thomas’ sonorous
Voice go on and on about a girl who should
Never fear, never fear the wolf in country sleep.
I’ve had precancerous cells,
A biopsy or two, procedures, my cervix
Removed for good measure in the hysterectomy,
But I didn’t lose my curly hair,
Spend days with my bald head over
The toilet, pray that South Carolina would
Forgodssake legalize medical marijuana
So I could get an appetite,
But I have experienced profound depression
With its sickening reckoning, a tidal wave
Of constant sorrow so that it’s hard to breathe
Much less go to work or give anybody
The love he or she deserves.
After 9/11, the wife of a man captured
By camera as he tumbled through the air
From one of the towers was furious at the suggestion
He jumped. “He would never commit suicide,”
She claimed. She has never, I bet, felt the brutal
Heat and threat of burn, lungs full of smoke
And chemicals, people screaming, dying
All around her an apocalypse, and found herself before
A window where, thank God, thank the angels,
There is oxygen --- crisp, clear, magnificent H20.
If my friend ever needs oxygen,
I pray he gets it in abundance.
Having never had to hold my breath
For the latest news about whether
I will live or die, my job is not to empathize
but to remember we can’t smoke near the tank.
For now, I’ll grade his papers,
And breathe in, breathe out. Never,
My darling, fear the wolf who threatens to huff,
And puff, and blow the house down.
This house is made of strong brick. Smoke
Goes on rising from the chimney.
My friend’s plane takes off.
I'm honored! On behalf of my friends and loved ones who bravely fought cancer and who have gone on to heaven --- and for those I love who are still fighting, I thank you for this acknowledgement. What an incredible prize! I will keep among my most precious possessions.