PaperPlanes#15 – The Poetry of C

To grow a Texas cactus from the start,
You scatter tiny seeds on dirt and sand
(Your nail works well to nudge stuck ones apart).
Then sprinkle water with a steady hand.
Each day, my son asks, “Will it get real tall?”
He crowds his brother as they check for growth—
The way I’ve searched my hairless head since fall.
I pray young shoots will sprout up soon for both.
It happens all at once — soft spikes appear;
I rub my scalp while calling to the boys.
They peer in close to analyze each spear.
My bigger joy is lost to hooting noise.
The victory is all my own: Mom’s hair?
The news is that we grew a Prickly Pear.

Inspired by the cactus she brought from Texas for her sons to grow, Kyle Potvin wrote the poem ‘The New Normal’ about her experience with Cancer.

Poetry has two epicenters. One is located at a place where the poet has understood the world too well too quick. The second one is positioned where the poet is tired of trying and failing to comprehend the ways of this world. The question is – does it help? Is it capable of healing the wounds for good or does it just provide a momentary catharsis and the ancient suffering takes a modern form? What importance does a momentary catharsis play in a life that is being constantly seen by distant people with a sense of despair but a poetic hope by people on the inner arc? Does it make another day easier to live? Maybe it does. Otherwise, why would someone write this –

I come-to wearily, conscious of the slight ache in my shoulder.
I hold the kettle under the cold tap, one foot on the other on the chilly lino.

I watch the sheep from the kitchen window while I wait for the kettle to click off.
They are nibbling the hedge. I don’t know what attracts them. It looks bare to me.

I take my cereal and tea back to bed and arrange my two duvets, my hat and my scarf.
I am lucky to have an appetite.

Once I’ve drunk my tea I’ll have a cup of water then clean my teeth, have a salt-water rinse and try and chase some more sleep.

Despite it being a bright, sunny day out there, sometimes you just can’t find the will to live each day as if it were your last

(Chemo in winter/ Everyday life.)

Can poetry speak to the cells of cancer? When winds blow against the sails of today, can poetry, impregnated with our tomorrow, carry us through to the other side? Is cancer willing to understand what it means to be alive and why the human spirit never gives up its fight to breathe? Someday, can cancer realize that its host’s body is predisposed towards life? Can cancer be made to see how purposelessly it feeds on this world? In effecting all of these, can poetry play a role, a supporting one at the least?

I was pondering over the role of poetry in the fight against cancer. I looked around and I wasn’t alone!

I gaze at your face now,
Irish and watery eyed with fear and mirth.
There’s a line under your eye
that you didn’t have before…and soft red marks on your hands.

Prize fighter.
Fight dirty and grab it by its dark balls, or
if it happens to be a lady,
dig your nails in and pull out her hair. All’s fair.

(Prize fighter)

It does help that you can express your feelings about what you are going through. However, can a poet tell all that he feels? Did we ever have such a poet in the history of poetry? Language is too feeble a medium. That feeling which travels from your gut to the heart’s vessels to the canals of your brain and egresses out as saline something from the shores of your eyes can not be translated into any language. Do I wish that it could be? On days when a 17 year old boy knows all that is happening inside the body of his 37 year old mother, at least those unworded, shapeless emotions should be left to remain private.

What about the part that is voiced in a cancer poet’s words? For me, that expression is vital. A poet by his wont only exposes the portion that he understands can take the flights of expression and that right he has. He has the right to expose only the tip of the iceberg. A sensitive seagull can still perch on it and songs of hope can still be sung atop the numbing tip.

Passages to strength
Come in many forms and lengths,
Survival of the fittest,
The biggest
Lessons learned
Appear only when earned,
When fate turns
Its back on you,
With questions of how and why,
Will I die?
How many tears am I able to cry?
The inquiries never seem to subside,
I am a warrior-Braveheart if you will,
Yet within the walls of my ivory skin lies a disease that will kill
At will
With no prejudice or bias,
Ready to guide us
To our Maker of life

Where there lies no strife,
Maybe finally a day of peace
The heartaches will cease,
But my soul tells me to get up and fight
It is not my time to go towards the light,
The flight
That is destined for me
Is to be
The leader of every community
To help them see
It is not about you or I – it is about we,
I will not be added to the list of the deceased

Time of death 12:43,
Any demon can be defeated
As long as in the Lord’s hands you are seated,


And yet you have been gone for slightly over 2 years,
And it’s amazing how my smiles take the place of those tears,
I now hope…instead of fear
And I pray that my message to all is crystal clear,
I stared Cancer right in the face
Not with anger but with womanly grace
And told it to get the hell out of this place!!!!!

(Cancer Slayer, Sabrina Esposito, Vero Beach, Florida)

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